Texas Front License Plate Laws

Let me preface this with the fact that I am not a lawyer, nor should anything in this post be taken as legal advice. Use the information provided here at your own risk.

In researching the front license plate law I found a lot of conflicting information on the requirements of how and where the front license plate can be put on a car that is registered in Texas. I spent a few minutes digging around the Internet looking at credible sources of information (such as published Texas laws and statues from the Texas state legislature.

Naturally, an internet search revealed many references to an old version of the law that was effective until January 01, 2012 from the Texas Constitution and Statues website:

Transportation Code 502.404:
Text of section effective until January 01, 2012
Sec. 502.404. OPERATION OF VEHICLE WITHOUT LICENSE PLATE OR REGISTRATION INSIGNIA. (a) A person commits an offense if the person operates on a public highway during a registration period a passenger car or commercial motor vehicle that does not display two license plates, at the front and rear of the vehicle, that have been:
(1) assigned by the department for the period; or
(2) validated by a registration insignia issued by the department that establishes that the vehicle is registered for the period.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person operates on a public highway during a registration period a passenger car or commercial motor vehicle, other than a vehicle assigned license plates for the registration period, that does not properly display the registration insignia issued by the department that establishes that the license plates have been validated for the period.
(c) A person commits an offense if the person operates on a public highway during a registration period a road tractor, motorcycle, trailer, or semitrailer that does not display a license plate, attached to the rear of the vehicle, that has been:
(1) assigned by the department for the period; or
(2) validated by a registration insignia issued by the department that establishes that the vehicle is registered for the period.
(d) Subsections (a) and (b) do not apply to a dealer operating a vehicle as provided by law.
(e) An offense under this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $200.
(f) A court may dismiss a charge brought under Subsection (a) if the defendant:
(1) remedies the defect before the defendant’s first court appearance; and
(2) pays an administrative fee not to exceed $10.
(g) A court may dismiss a charge brought under Subsection (b) if the defendant:
(1) shows that:
(A) the passenger car or commercial motor vehicle was issued a registration insignia by the department that establishes that the vehicle was registered for the period during which the offense was committed; and
(B) the registration insignia described in Paragraph (A) was attached to the passenger car or commercial motor vehicle before the defendant’s first court appearance; and
(2) pays an administrative fee not to exceed $10.

Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995.
Amended by: Acts 2007, 80th Leg., R.S., Ch. 1027 (H.B. 1623), Sec. 1, eff. September 1, 2007.

The keywords here are “…at the front…of the vehicle” – many people have resorted to using suction cups to mount the front license plate in the windshield.

While it isn’t clear by the letter of the law if the “windshield” is considered the “front” of the vehicle, Spence vs. State of Texas (case # PD-1458-09) ruled that the “front” license plate “…be displayed at the foremost part or front of a vehicle, most commonly the front bumper.”

However H.B. No. 2357 makes numerous changes to the Texas Transportation Code after that court ruling – in section 157 of the bill it removes the Texas Transportation Code that deals with the license plate placement requirement from 502.404. Section 221 of the bill adds section 504.943 to the Texas Transportation Code to deal with the license plate placement. These changes were made effective January 1, 2012 and the transportation code now reads as follows:

Sec. 504.943. OPERATION OF VEHICLE WITHOUT LICENSE PLATE. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), a person commits an offense if the person operates on a public highway, during a registration period, a motor vehicle that does not display two license plates that:
(1) have been assigned by the department for the period; and
(2) comply with department rules regarding the placement of license plates.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person operates on a public highway during a registration period a road tractor, motorcycle, trailer, or semitrailer that does not display a license plate that:
(1) has been assigned by the department for the period; and
(2) complies with department rules regarding the placement of license plates.
(c) This section does not apply to a dealer operating a vehicle as provided by law.
(d) A court may dismiss a charge brought under Subsection (a)(1) if the defendant:
(1) remedies the defect before the defendant’s first court appearance; and
(2) pays an administrative fee not to exceed $10.
(e) An offense under this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $200.

Added by Acts 2011, 82nd Leg., R.S., Ch. 1296 (H.B. 2357), Sec. 221, eff. January 1, 2012.
Amended by:
Acts 2013, 83rd Leg., R.S., Ch. 260 (H.B. 625), Sec. 1, eff. September 1, 2013.

I was unable to find what “…department rules regarding the placement of license plates” refers to, so right now I can’t locate any part of the law that explicitly states where the license plates have to be mounted.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for putting this all in one place. I am also looking up “department rules regarding the placement of license plates” myself but haven’t had much luck either.
    Have you found anything else since you published this post?

  2. You can find the “Front License Plate Law” in the:
    TITLE 43 TRANSPORTATION
    PART 10 TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES
    CHAPTER 217 VEHICLE TITLES AND REGISTRATION
    SUBCHAPTER B MOTOR VEHICLE REGISTRATION
    RULE §217.27 Vehicle Registration Insignia

    (1) must display two license plates, one at the EXTERIOR FRONT and one at the EXTERIOR REAR of the vehicle that are securely fastened at the exterior front and rear of the vehicle in a horizontal position of not less than 12 inches from the ground, measuring from the bottom, except that a vehicle described by Transportation Code, §621.2061 may place the rear plate so that it is clearly visible; or
    (2) must display one plate that is securely fastened at or as close as practical to the exterior rear of the vehicle in a position not less than 12 inches from the ground, measuring from the bottom if the vehicle is a road tractor, motorcycle, trailer or semitrailer.

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