Are front license plates required for all vehicles in Sacramento? Your question answered

License plates, or the lack thereof, are a popular fashion statement in Sacramento.

Last week, Sacramento Bee reader John Robbins reached out to our service journalism team, which focuses on community-driven questions, to ask about the laws surrounding front license plates in Sacramento.

“There are lots of cars on the streets of Sacramento now with no front plates,” Robbins told The Bee via email. “I always remember them being required. Is that still the case and is it that no one is bothering to enforce the rules?”

We consulted Sacramento Police Department spokesman Officer Cody Tapley, the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the state vehicle code to track the answer down.

Here’s what we found.

Are front license plates required in Sacramento?

Yes, for certain vehicles.

According to California Vehicle Code 5200 (A), when the California Department of Motor Vehicles issues two license plates for a vehicle, one should be fixed to the front and the other to the back.

If one plate is issued, it must be attached to the vehicle’s rear, per state vehicle code 5200 (B). This rule applies to trailers, motorcycles, special equipment, tow dollies and certain commercial truck tractors, the California DMV states.

Most other state-registered vehicles are assigned two license plates — with some exceptions for interstate commercial drivers.

This means Teslas and other cars without a front bumper are not exempt from the law.

California Vehicle Code 5201 (A) states that license plates, regardless if they’re temporary, should be securely fastened, clearly visible and legible, and in good condition.

Tesla’s website features a step-by-step tutorial on installing front license plate brackets using a strong adhesive. Audi and Lexus have similar options.

License plates, required since 1905, verify registered vehicles and connect them to their owners, the California DMV states.

What happens if I’m caught without a front license plate in Sacramento?

Cars without front license plates, although illegal, are seen often in California

Tesla owners have taken to online forums throughout the years to discuss the legality of driving their electric vehicles without both plates.

In a 2022 discussion on the Tesla Motors Club thread, owners swapped sentiments about driving their cars without license plates and not being ticketed.

“I have not had front plates on my cars for several decades,” one user wrote.

“Never got pulled over for no front plate, but got parking tickets,” another added.

In Sacramento, Tapley said any sworn peace officer can enforce this law.

If you are caught and pulled over, the officer can issue a correctable violation where a reduced $25 fee will be assessed for each violation proven corrected, according to the Sacramento County Superior Court.

If you can’t provide proof, your citation will not be reduced and you must pay it in full.

If the officer decides to not issue a correctable violation, you must pay your ticket in full or contact the court by its due date.

The general fine for violating California Vehicle Code 5200 is $193. The additional $10 DMV fine brings it to $203.

Fines associated with Vehicle Code 5201 generally match those for 5200, but can go as high as $1,101, according to the Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedules. Citations that large can be issued to those who alter their license plate’s reflective coating or sell prohibited products to obscure plates.

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