Ask a Trooper: License plates must be displayed correctly

Published 4:50 pm Saturday, September 19, 2015

By Sgt. Troy Christianson

Question: My front license plate fell off recently, am I required to display one? Can I display it up in the front windshield? Why do we need two license plates anyway?

Answer: This is what Minnesota State Statute (M.S.S.) 169.79 says about license plates:

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“No person shall operate, drive, or park a motor vehicle on any highway unless the vehicle is registered in accordance with the laws of this state and has the number plates or permit confirming that valid registration or operating authority has been obtained…”

There are some vehicles that are allowed to display only one license plate: motorcycles; a dealer’s vehicle or vehicle in-transit; a collector’s vehicle with a pioneer, classic car, collector, or street rod license; a vehicle that is of model year 1972 or earlier (not registered as a collector vehicle), and is used for general transportation purpose.

License plates cannot be displayed in the front windshield or the rear window, they must be displayed on the front and rear of the vehicle. All plates must be securely fastened so as to prevent them from swinging, displayed horizontally with the identifying numbers and letters facing outward from the vehicle, and mounted in the upright position. The person driving the motor vehicle shall keep the plate legible and unobstructed and free from grease, dust, or other blurring material (dirt, mud, snow, etc.) so that the lettering is plainly visible at all times. It is unlawful to cover any assigned letters and numbers or the name of the state of origin of a license plate with any material, including any clear or colorless material that affects the plate’s visibility or reflectivity. This also includes obstructing license plate brackets that block the state of issuance, and tabs.

License plates issued to vehicles must display the month of expiration in the lower left corner of each plate and the year of expiration in the lower right corner of each plate.

Why do we have two license plates? First and foremost, it is the law in Minnesota M.S.S. 169.79. From a law enforcement perspective it is safer to have two plates. For instance:

•If an officer needs to run vehicle information

•It makes a suspect vehicle easier to identify if it is encountered from the front or the rear.

•If a suspect vehicle is backed into a parking spot it is more easily identified.

•Identifying a suspect in a crime (from surveillance images) is easier with front and back plates.

•A robbery



•A gas drive off

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson – Minnesota State Patrol at 2900 48th Street NW, Rochester MN 55901-5848. (Or reach him at, Twitter: MSPPIO_SOUTH