RD383 - Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles License Plate Study -- An Assessment of the Current State of License Plates and Their Potential to Promote Public and Highway Safety and to Contribute to Transportation Funding in Virginia - November 9, 2012

  • Published: 2012
  • Author: Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Enabling Authority: Letter Request from House and Senate Transportation Committees, January 2012

Executive Summary:
At the request of the Chairmen of the Senate and House Transportation Committees, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), in consultation with the Virginia State Police (VSP), convened a working group of interested stakeholders to assess the current state of license plates and their potential to address the concerns of highway and public safety and transportation funding.

As requested by the Chairmen, the study included:

(i) options for improving the readability of license plates, including standards for design, display, and legibility, and the potential for the use of new technology for license plate production;

(ii) methods for identifying, or helping to identify, illegible, obstructed, damaged, or improperly mounted license plates, including the possibility of a license plate check as part of the annual motor vehicle safety inspection process;

(iii) the viability of a license plate replacement program;

(iv) the implications of various options for the elimination of one or both decals on license plates; and

(v) the implications of and options for the elimination of the front license plate for passenger vehicles, including statewide elimination, replacement of the plate with a windshield sticker, and the allowance for the display of a single plate for vehicles with no front mounting bracket.

The study also addressed the feasibility of issuing European-style license plates.

More than 35 stakeholders from state government and the private sector worked collaboratively with project staff to study the issues and develop recommendations through a series of meetings and other communications. Four committees facilitated work on the project: Plate Design, Number of License Plates, Plate Enforcement, and European Plate Design. Committees met between one and three times, following an initial kick-off meeting in April 2012.

The recommendations of the study are based on committee discussions, research and additional information gathered and provided by stakeholders. Of the recommendations, the most important are that Virginia retain its requirement of two license plates on vehicles and that Virginia maintain month and year decals on both plates. The law enforcement community’s strong endorsement and rationale for maintaining two plates were instrumental to the team’s decision. Having two plates increases their enforcement ability by providing a second opportunity to identify a vehicle, especially when the vehicle is carrying equipment, a plate frame, or any other device that obstructs the rear plate. In fact, intentional and unintentional obstructions, not legibility, are law enforcement’s major concern.

Additionally, toll collectors and Commissioners of the Revenue were in favor of maintaining this practice, because the second plate increases their effectiveness as well. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) also supports the use of two license plates. With the decision to continue issuing two plates, research did not support eliminating or modifying expiration decals.

The study included the concept of using a windshield sticker to indicate expiration or as a substitute for a front plate. Using a windshield sticker was not recommended because of concerns with the cost, size and placement of the sticker, and unfamiliarity by law enforcement and customers.

Additional recommendations include:

1. Evaluating existing and new license plate designs, as appropriate, for conformance with select AAMVA plate design best practices.

2. Continuing to have VSP review new license plate designs to ensure that the license plate is readable on a vehicle, but enhancing that review to include evaluation of the plates under optimal conditions at a distance of no less than 75 feet in the daylight and at night using low beam headlights. In addition, the committee recommends that new plate designs be photographed using an automated license plate reader (ALPR) by both law enforcement and toll facilities prior to approval of the designs.

3. Continuing to research the feasibility and benefits of technologies, such as bar codes and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, on license plates.

4. Reintroducing the “Illegible License Plate Notice” (form VSA-28) and process, which were created for law enforcement to use when a vehicle has illegible plates. Submitting this form to DMV places a stop on the DMV vehicle record, which prevents registration of the vehicle.

5. Reissuing stolen personalized plates only to the original owner, with a warning letter about the ramifications of having a plate that has been reported stolen.

6. Using the vehicle safety inspection program to identify illegible plates.

NOTE: VSP does not support this recommendation because inspecting license plates for appearance is subjective, and falls outside the scope of the inspection program, which is to ensure mechanical operation and equipment safety. VSP believes that this determination should be left to sworn law enforcement personnel.

Adopting and implementing these recommendations will enable Virginia to continue to use license plates to promote public and highway safety and to contribute to transportation funding throughout the Commonwealth.