COLUMBUS, Ohio — Police officers, sheriffs and prosecutors, who are concerned about the impact on crime, have gained an ally in their effort to save Ohio’s front license plate.
School officials warn that children will be endangered by motorists who whiz past stopped buses and increasingly elude apprehension unless lawmakers reverse course on the front plate’s scheduled July 1 demise.
House Republicans insisted on eliminating the plate as part of a conference-committee deal to pass the transportation budget. They cited aesthetics, the increasing use of sensors in front bumpers, and the desires of auto dealers.
House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said this week he is not changing his mind. “The decision has already been made regarding the front license plate. It was decided in the transportation budget.”
The speaker aside, some legislators and Gov. Mike DeWine are pushing to save the plate by enacting Senate Bill 179 to reverse the prior decision, with the safety of students now added to the mix of concerns.
Loss of the plate “would reduce the chances of identifying dangerous drivers who endanger our schoolchildren when they ignore warnings to stop for school buses,” said Melody Coniglio, president of the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation.
Col. Richard Fambro, superintendent of the State Highway Patrol, told legislators that bus drivers, assisted by video cameras, “almost exclusively utilize the front license plate to identify violators” and report them to police.
The lack of a front plate on offenders’ vehicles will make it “virtually impossible” to track down the drivers who blow past stopped school buses, said Fambro, whose troopers charge more than 600 such drivers each year.
School officials say that motorists failing to stop for buses that have stopped to pick up or drop off children is an increasing problem.
An Ohio School Boards Association survey of bus drivers in 183 school districts found that more than 1,500 buses were passed illegally on one day in March, suggesting that the statewide total of improper passes could be more than 4,500 a day.
The forfeiture of the front plate “will not only hinder the identification of offenders, it will make bus stops more dangerous for students,” the school-boards group wrote in conjunction with groups representing school administrators and business officials.
In Senate committee testimony last month, police groups pressed their case that the front license plate makes it easier for police and their automatic plate readers to detect wanted vehicles and capture criminals, including murderers.
“By removing one plate, you remove 50 percent of law enforcement’s ability to apprehend criminals,” said Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio lobbyist Mike Weinman.
Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft also value the front plate because it makes it easier for riders to determine that they are entering the correct vehicle, Weinman said.
Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, a co-sponsor of the bill to restore the front plate, recites numerous stories and statistics provided by police about the public-safety value of the plate. Ohio is, for now, among 31 states requiring front plates.
“You cannot look at the data and come to any other conclusion but this is a significant crime-fighting tool,” he said.
“To get this over the finish line will require some legislators, particularly members of the House, to have a change of heart,” Hottinger said. “I hope they are willing to do this.”