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Plates were license to publicize Nevada

Last week, Richard Velotta wrote in the Las Vegas Review-Journal about the Nevada requirement for front vehicle plates. His article was prompted by a letter from a reader: “When I switched my truck over to Nevada license plates I was told that Nevada is a two-­plate state, one in front and one in the rear. After being here a couple of years now, I am noticing that a lot of cars only have the rear plate. Is this illegal or not?”

Velotta’s piece reminded me of the days when only a rear plate was required. Many Nevadans used the space on the front of the car for public relations for the state, though they probably wouldn’t have called it that. In those days, stores sold non­official plates reading “Nevada” and it was common for locals to display them in front on vacation. My family did that, though sometimes we also used “Reno” front plates — an option I don’t think was available to Las Vegans because of the number of letters involved.

Our family would drive east to Nebraska (my father’s home state) and then Pennsylvania (my mother’s home state). My brother has said that our father planned these trips with a road map in one hand and a baseball schedule in the other. We saw games in Chicago, Cleveland, and on one trip we went up to New York City to see the Yankees.

This was, I should note, before the construction of the interstates. We drove a good deal of the trip on the old U.S. 40, which meant driving down the main streets of community after community, actually seeing the country. Today it’s possible to drive from one end of the country to the other without seeing anything more than gas stations and motels.

As many Nevadans know, there is something about this state that intrigues people. When I was in the Army and would arrive at a new post and we all introduced ourselves to each other, my home state always drew comment, something that rarely happened to Minnesotans or Carolinians.

The same kind of thing happened on those vacations. We would stop at restaurants or motels and people would comment on those front plates. Conversations began. Friendships were made.

Then one year, Nevada began requiring front and rear plates. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, the official plates simply don’t bring about the same response. And with official plates required front and rear, the manufacture of those unofficial plates dried up.

I looked up the Nevada statute that requires front and rear plates, Nevada Revised Statute 482.275. Front plates are required except in these cases: “If the motor vehicle was not manufactured to include a bracket, device or other contrivance to display and secure a front license plate, and if the manufacturer of the motor vehicle provided no other means or method by which a front license plate may be displayed upon and secured to the motor vehicle: (a) One license plate must be attached to the motor vehicle in the rear; and (b) The other license plate may, at the option of the owner of the vehicle, be attached to the motor vehicle in the front.”

In typical government fashion, the law also requires that if someone has a vehicle that is required to have only a rear plate, the owner must still pay for two plates and must be given two plates.

The owner is also required to hang onto the extra plate. Perhaps it can be displayed in the living room.

In 2012, the most recent year for which I could find reliable figures, there were 19 one-­plate states and 29 two­-plate states. Those figures came from a report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Under the listing was this footnote: “Massachusetts and Nevada require two license plates, but there are exceptions to that requirement based on model and/or year.”

It is states that tend to be more skeptical of government that do not require front plates. This is not a hard and fast rule, but in general, that’s the case. Requirements for front plates are largely because law enforcement wants it and, boy, do they enforce it.

I’ve sat through daily municipal court sessions in Reno and Sparks and missing front plate citations exceed all other offenses combined. As often as not, they were issued to people whose plates had fallen off and who put the plates on dashboards until they got a chance to re­attach them. Local Washoe judges became so exasperated by the sheer number of these kinds of tickets that, at the time I attended these sessions, they simply asked if the drivers had fixed the problem and if the answer was yes, they dismissed the ticket.

Dennis Myers is a veteran Nevada journalist.

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