Specialty license plates: Why are there so many?

Montana Quilters Have Their Own License Plate. And So Does Everyone Else.

The way things look.
June 26 2012 6:25 AM

Montana Quilters Have Their Own License Plate

The curious rise of specialty tags.


America’s highways are like Walt Whitman: They contain multitudes. America’s twin obsessions—being yourself and driving yourself—have given us the Hummer and the Prius, generational tides of nodding dogs and fuzzy dice, the Gucci edition of the AMC Hornet and those 3-inch  by 12-inch windows onto the nebulous depths of our fellow motorists known as bumper stickers. In a culture that celebrates autonomy, self-promotion, and perpetual motion, my car is a song of myself.

Most recently, our penchant for motor-vehicular self-expression has fueled a bumper crop of specialty license plates. Many raise eyebrows—and all raise questions. How did specialty plates get started? Why the recent boom? Who approves the designs? And are they harmless—or yet another symptom of too much pluribus and not enough unum?

More in the Design Series:


Mark Vanhoenacker is a writer in New York. His first book, Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot, will be published in June. Follow him on Twitter.

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