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Ohio cars to hit road without front plates

Vehicle owners in Ohio will no longer be required to have two license plates displayed beginning today.

Most vehicles will have to display only a rear license plate, while tractor trailers will be permitted to display only one plate on the front of their vehicles. Not having a front plate could result in a $100 fine before the change in law takes effect.

The passage of the 2019 state transportation bill ushered in the relaxation of the license plate law — favored by auto manufacturers, dealers and car enthusiasts.

However, numerous police departments and police advocacy groups opposed the bill.

Ohio becomes the 20th state to require only one plate on a vehicle and is surrounded by states that only require one plate.

Interim Liberty police Chief Toby Meloro said the elimination of the front plate requirement may make it harder to identify drivers who violate bus-safety laws because cameras and drivers often catch the front plate. The front plate comes in handy in any case that requires the identification of an unknown suspect, Meloro said, such as in store robberies, gasoline theft, hit-skips and DUIs.

“Since I am in law enforcement, anything that helps identify criminals and make our jobs easier, I am in favor of keeping,” Meloro said.

The law will not affect the speed camera traffic ticket systems, Meloro said, because the cameras have to be trained on the rear plate already.

Defense attorney David Rouzzo said the move will save taxpayers money — between $1 million and $2 million, according to reports.

And, Rouzzo said he doesn’t believe the change will hinder law enforcement.

“I’ve never had a case where my client wasn’t pulled over from behind,” Rouzzo said.

When the bill was being considered, the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association submitted testimony supporting the removal of the requirements for a front plate.

The association argued the front plates get in the way of new, bumper-placed technology aiding in the development of self-driving cars, meaning the plate could disrupt safety features.

The holes drilled for the plate holder makes it difficult to trade cars between states, the organization argued.

“Dealers often trade vehicles amongst themselves (in a wholesale fashion) to satisfy customer requests. This has become more and more difficult because none of our neighboring states require a front license plate. When a neighboring state dealer finds out that the car they are dealer trading for from Ohio has two holes in the front bumper, the deal often falls apart,” the association wrote. “It also causes problems on the retail side on both new and used cars. Customers in Kentucky or Indiana don’t want holes in the front bumper of the vehicle. Our Cincinnati area dealers, as an example, deal with this every day. When the customer realizes that there are holes in the front bumper, they often walk away.”

The holes or bracket disrupt the appearance of historical cars and expensive, luxury cars, and the design of vehicles is getting more complex and may not have a clear place to put the front plate, the association argued.

And, some people who move to Ohio from a state without the front plate requirement may have to have holes drilled into a vehicle to accommodate the nearly expired requirement.

Police advocacy groups such as the Ohio Association of Police, the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association and the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio all spoke out against the measure, as did the Youngstown Police Ranking Officers Organization.

“During my career as a police officer, I have witnessed firsthand how important a front license plate can be for not only solving crime, but preventing crime,” Detective Sgt. Michael Cox testified.

Cox described a Jan. 4, 2019, burglary in which $12,000 was stolen from a Youngstown business office.

” I was assigned the case and quickly found video from four different downtown businesses / locations, which showed the suspect driving his vehicle to and from a parking spot on a main downtown street. One of the locations was a restaurant located directly in front of where the suspect parked his vehicle. The security video had a close angle and provided clear footage of the front of the suspect’s vehicle, but this vehicle did not have a front license plate,” Cox stated.

Although video was found that showed the rear plate, it was not clear enough to read, according to Cox.

“A week of additional work was required until the suspect was identified and arrested in Cleveland. Unfortunately for the small-business owner victim, the money was gone,” Cox testified.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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