Alaska Legislature

Alaska vehicles need only a single license plate under new law

Pedestrian and traffic

Alaska drivers will only need to display a single license plate on their vehicles after Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed House Bill 163 into law last week.

The bill was written with different requirements for commercial and noncommercial vehicles. Alaskans will need one license plate on the backs of their personal cars, trailers, motorhomes and all-terrain vehicles, alongside a registration sticker. For large commercial vehicles, the single license plate will be up front.

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, championed the idea of ending front license plate requirements through a different bill as a way to make a “surgical” budget cut. The Division of Motor Vehicles estimates that it will halve its annual license plate costs by giving out one per driver, saving the state of Alaska $332,000 per year.

The Alaska Auto Dealers Association supported the change, saying front license plates are “cumbersome,” and that some car models don’t support them. The association also wrote that front plates can interfere with new safety radar systems.

McCabe noted that at least 20 other states require only a single license plate, and he said that relatively few “fix-it tickets” are issued in Alaska for drivers without a front plate. According to the state Department of Public Safety, nine citations were issued in 2021 for all license plate infringements.

Alaska State Troopers Capt. David Wilson told legislators that drivers not having a front license plate “is definitely a violation that we don’t ticket very often.”

But there were some public safety concerns raised during legislative debates. Sergeant Jeremy Conkling, president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, testified to the House Transportation Committee that police officers “routinely” rely on front license plates during traffic stops, and that they help identify drivers who could be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or involved in more heinous crimes.

“I strongly feel the potential cost saving is far outweighed by the decrease in efficiency and effectiveness of public safety, and the increased danger to our police officers,” Conkling said through written testimony.

Lt. Eric Olsen of the Alaska State Troopers described similar benefits for law enforcement officers of having the second plate when asked to testify by the same legislative committee, but he said that the Department of Public Safety would remain neutral on the bill.

Ending the rear license plate requirement for commercial vehicles was drafted by Sen. Robb Myers, a North Pole Republican, who works as a truck driver outside of the legislature. He said that the front plate is the one used when trucks are weighed and that the rear plate is less important because “most of the time, it’s not in a position that’s easy to see, anyway.”

McCabe’s bill was combined with another bill during the final frenetic day of the legislative session. The original legislation was introduced by Rep. Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent, to allow electronic signatures on vehicle title transfers.

Previously, title transfers needed to be signed in “ink,” but car dealers and lenders said allowing that to happen digitally would modernize and streamline the title transfer process, particularly for people buying cars remotely.

“This happens more than one might expect because of the volume of vehicles that we sell to rural communities not accessible by road,” said Marten Martensen, owner of Continental Auto Group, a car dealership in Anchorage. “In this instance, we must send original paperwork to the customer before we can finalize their purchase.”

The option to offer electronic signatures on title transfer documents comes into effect in November, the license plate change came into effect immediately after Dunleavy signed the bill. Ken Truitt, a spokesman for the Department of Administration, said administrators at the DMV are working out how that new signature system could be implemented.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at smaguire@adn.com.

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