New Brunswick

Front licence plates will be scrapped by July 15 despite safety concerns

The government is eliminating the requirement for front plates on passenger and light commercial vehicles, effective July 15, Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart announced on Tuesday.

Changes to annual motor vehicle inspections pending and changes to annual registrations also being considered

Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart said he expects eliminating front plates to be revenue-neutral for the province and won't save money for motorists because the $50 fee for two plates will remain the same for one. (CBC)

Front licence plates in New Brunswick will be taking a permanent vacation this summer.

The government is eliminating the requirement for front plates on passenger and light commercial vehicles, effective July 15, Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart announced on Tuesday.

"It's what the people wanted," he said during a news conference in Fredericton.

It won't save vehicle owners or the government money, said Urquhart. The current $50 fee motorists pay for two plates will remain the same for one and it will be "almost revenue neutral" for the province.

It will, however, spare them "the annoyance" of having front plates, he said.

The province is also planning to do away with annual motor vehicle inspections, likely this fall, said Urquhart. New vehicles won't require any inspection for the first three years. All other vehicles will be inspected every two years.

It's not government's responsibility to tell you whether your vehicle is safe.- Carl Urquhart, public safety minister

"We feel it's about time to make that change," he said. "I was there when we brought in inspections and the old cars we had on the road back then needed them every year. The old Ford rusted out pretty quick."

New vehicles are manufactured to a higher standard, he said, and inspections, which cost $35 a year, only provide a "snapshot" of a vehicle on the day they're conducted.

"I'm a firm believer if you've got a motor vehicle on the highway, that motor vehicle is your responsibility, it's not government's responsibility to tell you whether your vehicle is safe."

Changes to annual vehicle registrations are also being considered, said Urquhart. The People's Alliance has been pushing for one-time registration for all privately owned passenger vehicles.

But that could cost the province about $59 million in lost revenue, according to the minister.

It's "too big a hit right now," he said, adding he's willing to sit down with People's Alliance this summer to look at possible legislation for the fall.

Only required in 3 provinces

The Tories had announced plans to eliminate front licence plates in March when the provincial budget was presented, but a rollout date wasn't set.

The New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police and the school bus drivers' union have both criticized the move saying it will diminish public safety.

Urquhart, a former police officer, downplayed the importance of front plates as a policing tool, noting other provinces have already eliminated them.

Only Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba still require front licence plates on passenger vehicles.

The change only applies to vehicles weighing less than 4,500 kilograms. Tractor trailers, buses, school buses, fire trucks, dump trucks and bucket trucks will still be required to display front and back plates. (Maria Jose Burgos/ CBC)

Urquhart also downplayed any risks, saying they are "well outweighed" by the government following through on what New Brunswickers said they wanted.

"Most vehicles aren't designed anymore for front licence plates. It's hard to get them on there," he said.

The government is looking at installing cameras on school buses to protect against motorists speeding through loading zones 

Police chiefs concerned

Kennebecasis Regional Police Force Chief Wayne Gallant, who is the president of the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police, contends public safety should trump the interests of antique car collectors and lobby groups who pushed to do away with front plates. (Kennebecasis Regional Police Force)

Wayne Gallant, president of the chiefs' association and chief of the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force, has said front licence plates have helped with amber alerts, national security emergencies and stolen vehicle cases. Many hit-and-run crashes have been solved because of a front licence plate, he said.

Front plates are also a useful tool in cases where drivers illegally pass school buses when their red lights are flashing, said Gallant.

"It's going to make the job of a school bus driver all that more complicated and make prosecuting these serious offences more complicated," he said.

Bus drivers, who are already busy ensuring children are getting on and off the bus safely, will now have to try to get a description of the vehicle as well as the driver.

'Utterly ridiculous'

Brien Watson, president of CUPE 1253, has described the decision to scrap front plates as "utterly ridiculous."

He said the number of drivers who illegally pass school buses has reached "epidemic" proportions and removing the front plates will make it even easier for offenders.

The move to single plates was pushed by the People's Alliance, whose three members have been supporting the PCs in the legislature.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin has called the change "reason for celebration." 

Premier Blaine Higgs also promised to drop front plates when he was campaigning for election last September.

Seasonal plates program ends Nov. 1

Once the change takes effect, vehicle owners can either continue to display their front plate or drop it off at a Service New Brunswick location.

They will also have the option of displaying a novelty plate at the front of their vehicles instead.

The change only applies to vehicles weighing less than 4,500 kilograms.

Tractor trailers, buses, school buses, fire trucks, dump trucks and bucket trucks will still be required to display front and back plates.

The seasonal plate program will be cancelled, starting on Nov. 1. The registered owners of vehicles with seasonal plates will receive details about how they can replace their plates, officials said.

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