Plate Safety Task Force group: Keep both license plates in Ohio

by Marc kovac | Capital Bureau Chief Published:

COLUMBUS -- Better not plan to toss that front Ohio license plate anytime soon.

Because the Ohio License Plate Safety Task Force, created as part of last year's biennial budget bill, says the state should stick with two plates, though placards should be replaced on a more regular basis.

Those were the main conclusions the panel reached in a report it sent to Gov. John Kasich and the leaders of the Ohio House and Senate.

And that's sure to irritate drivers who don't understand why surrounding states can get by with one license plate but Ohio still requires two.

One-plate legislation is a regular offering here at the Statehouse. The Ohio Department of Public Safety briefly pursued the change last year but quickly abandoned its stance, with then-Director Tom Charles telling members of the Ohio House Finance Committee it was a "dumb idea."

Still, legislation on the license plate issue has moved this session. House Bill 133 was OK'd by the chamber's transportation committee last June and has languished "below the line" ever since -- that's Statehouse talk for bills that passed committees but have not (and probably will not) be subject to floor votes.

The License Plate Safety Task Force played host to a series of hearings late last year on the issue.

Among other findings, the panel noted that 31 states require two license plates, and two states recently returned to using two plates.

Police officers, school bus drivers, truckers and others say it's easier to track down traffic violators when there are readable plates on the front and back of vehicles.

(These folks could spend their entire day checking license plates, given the number of knucklehead drivers I encounter on a regular basis here in central Ohio.)

No proponents of the change to a single plate requirement showed up to testify before the task force, whereas lots of others who support two plates offered their opinions. Here are a few of the comments that were offered by the latter:

• "Ohio school bus drivers routinely report violations of passing a stopped school bus to law enforcement officers for investigation," said Capt. Chad McGinty from the Ohio Department of Public Safety. "... The bus drivers typically document the front license plate, a description of the vehicle and driver and report the information through appropriate channels for investigation...."

• "The front plate is vital in maintaining public safety and has and will continue to assist in the apprehension of those breaking the law," said Kimberly Schwind, a spokeswoman for the AAA Ohio Auto Club. "Many instances can be cited: amber alerts, speeding violations, stolen vehicles and many other serious violations such as kidnapping, domestic violence situations, robberies, etc."

• "Everyday in Ohio, officers responding to calls in progress or to crimes that have just occurred are looking at the front license plates of oncoming vehicles," said Steven Robinette, a suburban Columbus police chief. "… Having a front plate allows the officer to quickly scan the oncoming cars and either identify the suspect vehicle or to quickly clear it and continue on to the scene of the crime."

There are lots more, but that gives you the gist.

The task force has recommended requiring replacement of license plates every 5-7 years and consider making plates out of more durable materials.

And members suggested bureaus of motor vehicles check the condition of license plates when vehicle owners renew their registrations.

Side note: There are a lot of different license plates in use in Ohio. According to statistics compiled by the task force, nearly 1.2 million Ohio vehicles have the newest "Ohio Pride" plates. Another 5 million-plus feature the former "Beautiful Ohio" design.

Some 3.9 million have the sunburst design that was introduced more than a decade ago, while about 1.3 million have retained the 2001 bicentennial plates.

There are still some 707,000 vehicles with plates that were released in 1996.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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