Tennessee only requires one license plate for most passenger vehicles – a rear plate. That means if you don’t have a front license plate in Tennessee, you’re still on the right side of the law as long as your rear plate is a visible, valid Tennessee plate.

While passenger vehicles are fine with rear plates only, trucks weighing more than ¾ ton should have both front and rear plates. Tennessee is referred to as a “one-plate state,” along with 18 other states, including Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The one-plate rule also applies to trailers, motorhomes, and motorcycles.

Why Doesn’t Tennessee Require a Front License Plate?

There are 19 states in the U.S. that do not require a front license plate on passenger vehicles. The argument against two license plates usually boils down to aesthetics and the belief that a front license plate doesn’t make it any easier to identify a vehicle. Opinions on this vary widely, but for now, one license plate in the rear of the vehicle has been deemed sufficient in Tennessee and many other states.

What if I Have No License Plate in Tennessee?

If you have no license plate in Tennessee, you could be in trouble. While Tennessee doesn’t require a front plate, you can’t legally be on the road without a valid Tennessee plate on the rear of your car. If you attempt to drive with no plates, you could face significant consequences. 

Driving without a properly displayed license plate on the rear of your car is a Class C Misdemeanor in Tennessee and a primary offense. You could receive a sentence of up to 30 days in jail in addition to a fine, so it’s always best to stay off the road until you receive your Tennessee license plate in the mail.

Car number license plate. Cars registration number signs, Texas, Kentucky, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, and Tennessee license plate image collection. Front license plate laws in Tennessee.

How Long Do I Have to Replace My Out-of-State Plates?

If you recently moved to Tennessee from another state, you have 30 days to register your vehicle in Tennessee. Failure to register your vehicle in Tennessee within 30 days can lead to a ticket and a fine. Remember, you will only receive one license plate, and it should be attached to the rear of your vehicle.

If you are a new resident or you’re relocating, you can register your vehicle with the county clerk. You will be required to bring your most current out-of-state registration and the name and address of the company where you send car payments, if applicable.

What Other States Do Not Require a Front License Plate?

In the U.S., 19 states do not require a front license plate:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

If you travel to a state not on this list, don’t worry. Other states understand that you aren’t provided a front plate in Tennessee. If you move to a new state, you are required to request new plates and abide by their license plate laws. But if you are just traveling through a state that requires both plates, you will not be penalized for only displaying your rear plate.

Why Do License Plate Laws Vary From State to State?

Every U.S. state has autonomy, which means it is free to determine its regulations and laws around license plate placement. A state’s decision around license plate laws can include multiple factors, like how things have historically been done, their unique legislative process, and administrative preferences in the state.

The top reasons license plate laws vary by state include:

Policing Capabilities

Some police forces have access to advanced technology that allows them to easily track and surveil vehicles without a front plate. However, other police departments don’t have the same capabilities and benefit greatly from a front license plate for purposes of identification.

Aesthetic Preferences

Put simply, many people don’t like the way front license plates look on a vehicle. Especially in areas where there is a high volume of car enthusiasts or luxury vehicle owners, design preferences can play a role in determining whether front plates should be required.

Budgeting Considerations

Every state has a unique budget and distinct priorities. All things considered, if a state believes front license plates are unnecessary, eliminating them could be seen as a cost-effective strategy to help lower their annual budget. This law could change depending on leadership, legislative priorities, or the state entering into a season of budget constraint.

A Decentralized Legal System

Each U.S. state can make a judgment call about license plate regulations because our legal system is decentralized. This means that individual states have the authority to make and maintain their own laws. Based on the factors listed above, your state will decide on plate requirements, and those requirements are subject to change as your state sees fit.

If you or a loved one were injured in a car accident due to someone else’s negligence, give us a call. Our Tennessee car accident attorneys are standing by to help you understand your rights as an accident victim. Call us today for a free case evaluation!