Semi-Trucking 101: Why Some Semi Trucks Have Many License Plates

Whether you’re only planning to buy a semi-truck or you already own one, its registration can be confusing. This is especially true if you opt for inter-state usage. Hence, you might ask if you have to own several license plates like other semi-trucks. Read on to find out the reason behind it, and whether your vehicle would also need some.

What is a Semi Truck?

semi-truck is a shortened term for a semi-trailer truck. This makes the truck divided into two components – the tractor and the semi-trailer.

A semi-trailer is only self-supported by its rear wheels. Moreover, the tractor caters to its remaining unsupported part.

Although the semi-truck is already a shortened term, other states call it differently. In the United States, it is the eighteen-wheeler, big rig, tractor-trailer, or semi. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, its nickname is an articulated lorry. Its seldom used aliases include transport, semi, and single.

For better context, this article will use semi-truck and lorry to describe the vehicle.

What Does a License Plate Mean in Trucking?

Common knowledge will tell you that trucking is a no-easy business. Before anything else, you must understand that trucking is a heavily-regulated industry. This is why business owners must submit several government requirements before operations.

With this in mind, getting a license plate for your semi-truck can be quite challenging. Although registration can vary per state, here’s a general overview of how it works. All you have to do is tailor it according to your location’s requirements.

First, determine if your lorries count as commercial vehicles in your locality. Next, submit all the requirements asked by your local vehicle registration office. If you plan on traveling interstate or international, this is where things get tricky.

For semi-trucks in the United States, drivers must apply for a specialized service. This is the Unified Carrier Registration (UCR). Details about this system are in the latter part of this article. If you’re from another country, look for similar systems that your country requires.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re into inter-state or international delivery. To register lorries for whichever target market you want, follow these three steps.

First, inquire about registration requirements at your local legal office. Second, submit the requirements needed. Third, pay the registration fees, if there’s any.

Why Do Some Semi Trucks Have Many License Plates?

For motorcycles and cars, it is common knowledge that they own single license plates. But, the case is different for semi-trucks. This is because these vehicles used to own many license plates. Ever wondered what caused this? Here are three possible scenarios:

  • Two Vehicles Mean Two License Plates

For starters, the first scenario that comes to mind traces back to the semi-truck anatomy. As mentioned, two separate vehicles form a semi-truck. This is why they have separate registration records. Hence, it is natural that the semi-truck has two license plates.

If you’re not into conspiracies, below are two scenarios on why semi-trucks have many plates. Compared to the earlier possibility, actual laws support the following scenarios.

  • Old Bingo Stamp Program

When you see an old semi-truck, you might think that you’re seeing two license plates. But, one of them is a dupe.

Are you familiar with those tiny stickers that government transport agencies give? Trucking businesses that operate in different states have to collect those stickers. To avoid losing any of them, these agencies placed these stickers into another piece of metal. Moreover, their “sticker plate” looks like a standard license plate. Afterward, it sits right next to the license plate itself. This makes it look like the semi-truck has two license plates instead of one.

Although its backstory sounds interesting, it burdened many truck drivers. To address this issue, state leaders agreed on a unified system. Its main goal is to avoid further misunderstandings in the future.

  • Single State Registration System and Unified Carrier Registration Agreement: What’s the Difference?

To solve the sticker problem on the Old Bingo Stamp Program, the government came up with a unified system. This is the Single State Registration System (SSRS). With the SSRS, it allows them to operate inter-state with a single license plate.

But, it was later replaced by the Unified Carrier Registration Agreement (UCRA). Although both systems have the same goals, the latter caters to all vehicle operators. In the SSRS, only for-hire carriers can avail of the system.

Who Can Apply for a Unified Carrier Registration?

All carriers that operate on inter-state and international territories must apply for UCR. As for businesses, there’s a common misconception going around on this system. This is the myth that only trucking businesses must avail of this service. This is completely false, as the UCR caters to other related businesses. These include companies housing brokers, freight forwarders, and leasers.

There are only two options truck drivers can face if their semi-trucks didn’t undergo the UCR. First, it can result in the instant detainment of their lorries. Second, law enforcement agencies could ask them to pay extra fines. This could range from $100 to $5000 depending on the state they’re held captive.

Why Owning Many License Plates Should Be a Thing of the Past

Aside from the hassle that truck drivers face during the Old Bingo Stamp Program, their companies had to spend more money. This is due to the registration fees that each state asks. The more states they travel, the more fees they must pay. Vehicle taxes, anyone?

Moreover, inspection during the time of bingo-style license plates was more tedious. Truck drivers had to carry registration documents in each state that they’re traveling to. Imagine if they had to deliver in over 10 states!


Now that you understand why some lorries have many license plates, you don’t have to worry about getting those tacky license plates. With a unified license plate, losing your Indiana license plate on the road while you’re on the way to Indiana won’t be a problem anymore.

Like many other global issues in the past, the case of lorries having many license plates is gone for good.