If you aren’t used to the rules of a “two-plate state”, being required to have a license plate on the front of your car can seem like an unnecessary annoyance. But the fact is, having a front license plate in Washington not only helps you avoid legal consequences like fines—it also keeps your car safe from property crime.
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Does Washington require front license plates?
Washington State requires drivers to display front and rear license plates, with a few exceptions.
According to Washington State Legislature 46.16A. 200, if two license plates are issued, they both have to be displayed on the front and rear of your vehicle. Most vehicle owners will be given two license plates when registering their vehicles, unless they are registering a vehicle like a motorcycle or a trailer, or they have applied for and been granted an exception.
Both plates need to be fully visible, with all text and stickers unobstructed as well as the state name and registration expiration. This information can’t be covered by anything—even dirt getting in the way of their legibility can get you hit with a fine.
Personalized license plates and special plates, like those issued to disabled veterans, are not exempt from these regulations.
A front license plate may be an eyesore, but it’s typically fairly easy to attach. You don’t necessarily have to drill into the front of your car to do so. Many brackets are available with drill-free designs.
In most cases, if you’re issued two Washington plates, you’ll need to put both on your car. Washington State does allow for some exceptions to the front and back license plate requirement, though you’ll likely have to apply for them.
Applying for a front license plate exemption can be quite a process for Washington drivers, but if you’re adamantly against the idea, it may be worth looking into.
To get an exemption, you will first have to prove that your car manufacturer is not able to supply a way to attach a front license plate. Only then can you apply for a front license plate waiver.
There are a few vehicles that are exempt from the two-plate rule, without the driver needing to apply for an example. The single-plate vehicles in Washington State include the following:
Collector vehicles (Any vehicle from the model year 1945 or older)
These vehicles still have to abide by the rear license plate rule, but do not need a front plate.
What is the penalty for driving without a front license plate in Washington?
It is considered a primary violation to drive without a front license plate in Washington, which means a police officer can pull you over just for driving without one.
If this happens, you may be subject to a fine of between $136 and $200. Law enforcement may let the first offense slide in some cases since there are quite a few states that don’t have the two-plate requirement. This doesn’t always happen, though, and it's best to avoid that potential fine altogether by affixing your front plate to your bumper before you get stopped.
Which US states do not require a front license plate?
As we mentioned, there are quite a few states that don’t require both a front and rear license plate. Although many of Washington's neighboring states do require both, states further out take a different approach.
The following 20 states have no front license plate requirement:
Why Washington requires a front license plate
Many drivers new to the two-plate requirement think this additional identifier is unnecessary. But while it isn’t the most attractive addition to your car, there are some pretty persuasive arguments in favor of the front license plate requirement.
Front license plates help law enforcement more easily identify stolen vehicles, and aid in enforcing traffic violations—both of which help keep the roads safer. Front license plates also serve to make it easier for other drivers to see your vehicle at night, as the reflective surface of the plate calls more attention to your car.
Which states have the highest rate of car theft?
Why should you be concerned with how much a front license plate can help find a stolen car? Well, the likelihood of your vehicle being stolen is much higher in Washington than it is in other states.
According to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Service, Washington ranked fifth for the highest rate of vehicle theft in the U.S. as of 2020, with 27,399 reported thefts that year alone.
Several cities in The Evergreen state have some of the highest rates of vehicle theft in the country, too. There were 1,067 vehicle thefts in Yakima in 2020, which comes out to 426 incidents for every 100,000 people—far higher than the nationwide motor vehicle theft average of 246 per 100,000 people.
Other Washington cities with a high auto theft rate include:
Seattle: 457 per 100,000 people
Portland: 472 per 100,000 people
This high rate means it's a good idea to do all you can to make your vehicle easily identifiable—like adding a front license plate. It also spells bad news for your car insurance, as the high rate of car theft contributes to higher local coverage rates.
How to find cheap car insurance in Washington
Comparison shopping is your best bet if you’re looking for affordable car insurance rates that also meet Washington's requirements, but won’t break the bank. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone!
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