Confusing New License Plate Numbering Scheme for Washington State
By Kevin Miller
The Washington State Department of Licensing announced last week that they are implementing a change in the license plate numbering configuration for passenger vehicles that uses seven characters, as all possible configurations consisting of six characters have been exhausted. The current numbering scheme consisting of three numbers followed by three letters (like 123-ABC) was implemented in the late 1980s, after the original scheme with the letters first (ABC-123) exhausted all of its possible configurations. With the current numbering protocol already issuing plates whose letter combination begins with Z, the state was forced to come up with a new format for license plate numbering.
The new numbering scheme consists of seven characters, with a number, then a letter, then two numbers, then three letters (think 1A23BCD, or 7F36XWJ). The overall appearance of the passenger vehicle plates will not change. They will still feature the standard mountain background currently in use. Most states in the west have only six characters on their license plates, though California uses seven-character plates, with a number, then three letters, followed by three numbers (like 1ABC234).
Whenever government organizations make a change like this, people will complain about the new configuration. In this case, some of the detractors’ arguments make sense. They argue that the new character configuration is just a jumble of numbers and letters, which will be difficult to remember. Pundits worry that it will be more difficult for witnesses to recall license plate numbers if a crime has been committed.
“The decision to use a seven-character plate number wasn’t made in haste,” DOL Director Liz Luce said. “ We began studying our options years ago and carefully considered our requirements, the needs of law enforcement, and configurations that have been successful in other states.”
DOL chose a seven-character configuration similar to one used in California because it provides a very large number of possible combinations and doesn’t conflict with any plates already issued. After subtracting combinations DOL does not plan to issue, this configuration offers more than 350,000,000 possible plate numbers.
Washington’s Department of Licensing came under fire in recent years after making a mandatory requirement that license plates must be replaced every seven years, citing concerns about the durability of the reflective appearance of the state’s license plates. That privilege costs $27.75, with an additional $20 surcharge if you want your new license plates to have the same number as your existing plates.
Whether or not you like the new numbering scheme (or even care about it), local vehicle licensing offices around the state will begin issuing the new seven-character plates after exhausting their stock of the current six-character plates. This means the new plates will be available at different times in different locations around the state. Keep your eyes peeled for the new plates. I defy you to recall its number after a quick glance.
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