Require Only a Single License Plate on Motor Vehicles

Texas should require only a single license plate on motor vehicles. Texas also should adapt its license plate manufacturing process to a less expensive plate reflectorization method and consider other potential savings connected with license plates.

Texas state law requires two license pl ates on all passenger and commercial motor vehicles operating on public highways. During fiscal 1991 about 8.8 million passenger vehicles and 3.8 million commercial vehicles were registered in Texas.
Texas fee for registering a vehicle depends on its age, and ranges from $40.50 for vehicles more than six years old to $58.50 for those less than three years old. State revenues in fiscal 1991 from vehicle registrations totaled more than $658 million.

Texas manufactured about 5.6 million metal license plate s in fiscal 1991. No fee other than the registration fee is charged for these plates, except for replacement plates purchased within five years of the initial issuance and for specialized license plates such as collegiate and personalized plates, which car ry a special higher fee.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), 20 states require only one license plate; four of these have adopted the one-plate system since 1980. 1 A number of major states require only one plate, including Florida , Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and all states bordering Texas.

Opponents of this recommendation argue that a single-plate system can cause difficulties for law enforcement, since at times only the front of a car may be visible. However, such opponents have provided no data to support this allegation. A survey of sever al states requiring only one license plate found that none has experienced a serious police problem. If a police car approaches a suspicious vehicle, the police will turn around and follow the vehicle, which allows them to read the rear plate.

Moreover, other states have realized significant savings in plate manufacturing by using a less expensive license plate reflectorization process. This process involves coating the numbers and letters on the plate with ink-bead reflective, rather than a she et of reflectorized material as used in Texas. At least seven states have switched to the cheaper reflective material. 2 Officials in these states indicated that this type of plate has proven to be as durable and safe as plates made with the more expensive process. Connecticut s reflective-bead process costs 10 cents per plate, compared to about 55 cents per plate in Texas. 3

Other Savings Opportunities
Currently, Texas requires drivers to replace their license plates every eight years. Extending this requirement to every ten years would reduce the total demand for license plates and reduce the state s costs. At least two other states have no time requirement for plate replacement.

TPR surveyed several states to identify other cost-cutting measures connected with license plates. For instance, Texas plates are considerably larger than those used by some other states; Connecticut s plates measure 6 inches by 9 inches, while Texas license plates measure 6 inches by 12 inches. 4

Other cost-reduction measures include privatization; Tennessee has considered using a private company to manufacture its plates. 5 Michigan has increased the size of the holes in its plates to reduce the amount of metal used. 6

Although Texas production costs are lower than in many other states, such ideas could further reduce the state s costs and should be explored. TxDOT reports that it has not recently investigated any options for reducing the costs of its license plates.

State law should be amended to require motor vehicles to display only one license plate, at the rear. State law also should require that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) examine the costs of materials used in producing li cense plates and use the most cost-effective materials possible.

TxDOT should examine savings measures other states have adopted to determine whether any of these measures can be used in Texas and report its recommendations to its legislative oversight committees.

The rationale behind a single-plate system is to save money. However, several possible disadvantages could spring from this change. An official from the Texas Department of Public Safety s Traffic Enforcement Division indicated that DPS might oppose the use of a single plate, primarily because the front plate usually is the only reflectorized item on a vehicle s front end, and witnesses and crime victims may only get a look at the front of a vehicle. Still, such concerns have not prevented 20 states from operating successful one-plate registration programs.

In addition, the Border Operations Division of U.S. Customs requires a computerized license plate check on all vehicles crossing the border into the United States. Currently, b order agents perform these checks by reading the front license plate. Additional time would be required to check a rear plate. Even so, both Arizona and New Mexico are one-plate states bordering Mexico; U.S. Customs is testing an automated rear license pla te reader that may be in operation in the near future.

The Dallas/Fort Worth Airport has a $10 million computerized parking system that requires parking attendants to read and enter in a computer the front license plate numbers of approaching vehicles. Ai rport officials indicated that the loss of the front plate would require some adjustments to their system, but would not make it unworkable.

Fiscal Impact
The state would save approximately $3 million per year, or almost $15 million over the next five years, by eliminating a front license plate. The state could save an additional $1.5 million annually by using less expensive materials to make its license pla tes. Switching to the ink-bead reflective process would not entail any significant startup costs.

Savings from this recommendation would accrue to the State Highway Fund and would not increase the amount available for certification from general revenue. To achieve the anticipated savings to the Highway Fund, the Legislature should reduce the TxDOT appr opriation by the recommended amount.

Fiscal Savings to the Change
Year State Highway Fund 006 in FTEs

1994 $ 4,413,000 0
1995 4,459,000 0
1996 4,301,000 0
1997 4,344,000 0
1998 4,387,000 0

Similar annual savings would continue as long as th e provisions of the bill are in effect. The fiscal implication to units of local government cannot be accurately estimated, although some savings would accrue to counties, since they would now be mailing only one license plate rather than two.

1 Comptroller of Public Accounts Breaking the Mold, Require Only a Rear License Plate on Motor Vehicles. (July 1991), p. TR72.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Interview with Stan Halizbozek, Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, Hartford, Connecticut, October 1, 1992.
5 Interview with Peggy Miller, Tennessee Motor Vehicles Division, Department of Revenue, Nashville, Tennessee, October 5, 1992.
6 Interview with Steve Pierson, Bureau of Automotive Regulation, State Department, Lansing, Michigan, October 6, 1992.