Savings from dropping Ohio’s front plate would be miniscule

Yes, we know there are some Ohio- ans who hate that the state is one of the 31 that require motorists to have front and back license plates on their cars and trucks. Their aversion is probably aggravated because five of the 19 states that don’t require two plates just happen to be the five states contiguous to Ohio — Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. The Buckeye state, it seems, is an island of conspicuous license plate consumption among a sea of single-platers.

Or, in the eyes of the Ohio State Highway Patrol and many local police departments, Ohio is the one state among the six that got it right.

Once again, there is a move in Columbus to bring Ohio into conformity with its neighbors.

State Representatives Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, and Stephen Slesnick, D-Canton, are sponsoring House Bill 107 that would eliminate the front license plate on motor vehicles.

“HB 107 is a cost savings measure,” Damschroder says. “Due to Ohio’s huge budget shortfall, we must look everywhere we can for ways to save money. The elimination of the front license plate will save the state nearly $2 million dollars.”

Plates are pretty cheap

Please. In the first place, the savings are being overstated. Last year, Ohio issued about 1.8 million standard plates at a cost of less than 70 cents a plate and 145,000 digital plates at a cost of less than $1. That’s about $1.5 million. In a budget atmosphere in which billions are being cut and billions more must be cut, it might be nice to cut another $1.5 million, but it’s hardly an accomplishment worthy of fanfare.

In the old days, when Ohio was issuing two new plates for every vehicle every year, this bill might have made some economic sense. But today, there are about 12 million registered vehicles in the state and fewer than 2 million new sets of plates are issued a year. We’re talking about savings that represent about 15 cents per Ohioan.

Damschroder and Slesnick might respond that every penny counts, but there’s a more apt adage to be applied to this proposal: it’s penny wise and pound foolish.

Two license plates serve a number of useful purposes — purposes that are important to troopers and police officers on patrol today and that will be more important in the future when traffic cameras and electronic toll collection become more prevalent. And if all of that were to be discounted, there’s this: school bus drivers love the front plate. When they see a car barrelling toward them with a driver who shows no sign of slowing to a stop (perhaps too busy chatting on a cellphone or texting), those bus drivers love to be able to get the license number off the front of the offending vehicle.

OSHP backing

During a recent meeting with Vindicator editors, the new head of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Col. John Born, reiterated the patrol’s support for continuation of front plates. The plates provide law enforcement with another tool, at minimal cost to the public and the state.

In the past, the patrol and the Department of Public Safety have pointed out that the front license plate is the only highly reflective item on the front of most motor vehicles. At night, that allows drivers to spot oncoming left-of-center vehicles with one headlight out or both headlights unlit (drunken drivers are prone to forgetting to turn on their headlights).

Neighborhood block watch groups and witnesses to hit-skip accidents may also appreciate having two chances to note the license number of a suspicious vehicle.

These and other arguments carried the day when similar legislation was introduced in 2005 and died in committee. H.B. 107 should likewise die quietly.

The passion of those who feel they shouldn’t be required to deface the front of their vehicles with a license plate is, in its way, admirable. But legitimate law enforcement concerns trump aesthetics. The General Assembly has a lot of work ahead of it and some serious budget cutting to do. It shouldn’t be wasting its time trying to fix something that for the vast majority of motorists isn’t broken.

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