August 08, 2011, 2:43 PM —
Some jurisdictions require two of them: license plates. Some places, like Indiana where I live, require just one. We don’t even need that one. Vehicle makers have for ages, tried to find a place perfectly situated on the front and rear of a car for the plate. Placing the location for a license plate mount ruins the aesthetic lines of many vehicles.
That we have to deal with them at all is problematic. The plate(s) might change every year, or they might be updated with stickers. People like to put them in the rear window, or cover them with cool protectors—both illegal in Indiana, but apparently legal in other jurisdictions.
Plates are stolen. Four miserable bolts usually hold them into wretchedly rusted mounts. They rust. In some states, if you leave the state, you’ll find you don’t even own the plate, and the state will come after you to get it back (are you blushing, Massachusetts?). Yes, plates are a nuisance.
They have little stickers on some of them, expanding their date of expiration, or perhaps changing its nature for a new sub-jurisdiction. They allow law enforcement to get a visual indication of whether you’ve paid your fees and taxes, and fine you if you haven’t done that. Yet law enforcement officials have computers that can take a picture of a plate, do the optical character recognition step of the identification, run it through a database match and know if it’s paid—faster than the time needed to put the sticker on the plate.
Plates in some parts of the world can be used to identify the county, parish, city-state, region, state, or area that one lives in. In Indiana, the numeric prefix on the plate used to indicate what county the vehicle was registered in. Move into a new county, and a new plate needed to be obtained, along with requisite fees and taxes paid to the new county of residence.
As a friend of mine and I flew up the Autobahn in Northwestern Germany a couple of years ago in his way-fast BMW, he explained to me how German plates worked, and how to decode a plate. Moving your residence in Germany isn’t like it is in the US, where you just show up and start living. In Germany, you must register, and many of your characteristics must be studiously recorded in your newly adopted jurisdiction. Failure to do so will be met with much soap opera and admonishing, and probably fines.