Arrow-right Camera


License plates take a bit too much … license

Sat., Aug. 11, 2007

Automobile license plates have evolved into an odd sort of thing, don’t you think?

I first became enamored with them about 40 years ago when, as a teenager, our family took a four-week cross-country drive. We passed through 28 or 30 states, and in each one, we kept track of all the states represented on the road by their license plates.

I also have played the game with the kids in which we try to see a car from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in a year.

Mine was the only attention span long enough to see it through. I think Maine was the most difficult to find. And it’s surprising how many people drive over from Hawaii.

A few years ago, it was a relatively simple task to identify the states by their license plates. Some states issued new plates yearly but usually didn’t change the color or design. And there were no scenic or specialty plates to confuse things.

But I just checked online with the Idaho Transportation Department and found out there are 67 different plate designs just for cars in this state. Those do not include motorcycle, commercial or government plates.

Can you believe it? Idaho has 67 license-plate designs.

The site also has “a printable poster showing all 30 of Idaho’s special license-plate designs.” I guess the other 37 designs aren’t “special.”

Actually, the poster shows 33 designs, two of which are not currently valid plates and four of which may be purchased only as souvenirs that are “not available for display on a vehicle.”

Ten designs represent various Idaho colleges and universities.

Thirty patterns are available to veterans depending on their combination of branch of service and war. Military personnel have another 15 souvenir plates they can purchase.

There are 17 souvenir designs in addition to 66 official designs. You can’t get a souvenir of a “Disability” plate.

There is, of course, the standard “Scenic Idaho” plate with the embarrassing “Famous Potatoes” slogan. There also is a “World Famous Potatoes” specialty plate with apicture of a potato.

Thirty-two of the designs, including the 10 for Idaho colleges and universities and the “Disability” plate, have the “Scenic Idaho” motif as the background.

Some themes seem fairly reasonable. I like the Lewis and Clark plate with the slogan, “Discover Idaho,” and the snow-skier plate with “Ski Idaho” across the top and “Winter Wonderland” across the bottom. Also not bad are “Snowmobile Idaho” and “Scenic Idaho – Wild Rivers.”

Agriculture is important in Idaho, but aren’t farmers too practical to pay for a specialty plate? The Fire Fighters and Peace Officer Memorial plates are fine, but why a plate honoring school buses?

Other designs seem rather exclusive. Why Boy Scouts and not Girl Scouts? And what does the slogan, “Timeless Idaho Values,” mean? I’ve read Idaho history. What Idaho values are the Boy Scouts referring to exactly?

Why appaloosas and not mules? (Idaho scientists cloned mules.) Why Sawtooth National Recreation Area and not a hundred other neat places in Idaho? And why “Basque Culture” in a state with so little culture?

The plate that makes me angry, however, and could induce road rage is the one that says, “Corvette – America’s Sports Car.” Who came up with that one? Why isn’t there a “Mustang – America’s Favorite Sports Car” plate? Who in Idaho can afford a Corvette anyway?

Some themes I don’t get at all: “Street Rod,” “Science and Technology,” “Celebrate Idaho Youth.”

Still other plate concepts seem just crazy to me. “Lewiston – First Territorial Capital” is a sad reminder of how the capital, despite armed intervention, was stolen and removed to Boise. The “Centennial” plate is 17 years out-of-date. And isn’t the “Motorcycle Safety” theme an oxymoron?

Fortunately, five plates lack the “Scenic Idaho” background. They stand out as rather classy alternatives. Three wildlife plates – a mountain bluebird, an elk and a cutthroat trout – are particularly nice, as well as the one for timber and the one for Capitol restoration.

Oh, I almost forgot. Plate No 68 is one only for legislators. But no matter how vain they might be, why would they hang a bull’s eye on their cars, front and back?

Of course, once you pick your theme or design, you can have the plate further customized with your very own witty little ditty.

However, you get only three to seven spaces, depending on the design, in which to be witty. And you’ll be severely limited by the requirement that “personalized plate text must be tasteful.”

There actually is someone in Boise whose job it is to taste test the text.

Let’s hope and pray it’s not the same guy who came up with our 68 license plate possibilities.


Click here to comment on this story »