Your correspondent was concerned for several months that he might have to get a new car—because a proposed new license plate just wouldn’t look good.
You see, Missouri will be celebrating the two-hundredth anniversary of becoming part of the Union four years from now and a special committee has been working on the design of a special Missouri Bicentennial license plate. Some of you might have cast votes for the five original proposals:
They’re varying shades of blue. And they just wouldn’t look nearly as nice as the current white Bluebird plates look on my white car. They’d disrupt the entire color scheme. Indescribable angst was increasing.
A lot of people voted for the one they thought was the best of an admittedly bland lot. But in defense of the people who designed these candidates, there was only so much they could do given state laws that regulate the layout of license plates and the Highway Patrol’s preference for plates with high visibility.
State law requires the renewal stickers to be in the middle of the plate. That was done by the legislature several years ago when authorities saw an increasing number of sticker thefts, often by people using metal cutters to cut they off the corners of the license plates. To foil the thieves, the law was changed so the stickers are in the middle. That, of course, imposes some limits on how a new plate for general circulation can be designed.
The Patrol took these blue sample plates out on the road to test their visibility and decided the original idea of having light numbers on a dark plate wasn’t going to work.
So the license plate commission went back to work. And this is what most of us will have on the front and backs of our cars by January 1, 2019:
That’s so much better.
Missouri was due for a new license plate anyway. The current design has been around since 2009 and license plates are considered to have about a ten-year life before they get bent up too much or their reflective nature gets too dull for troopers’ eyes, or other stuff happens to them.
Representative Glen Kolkmeyer of Odessa found himself being asked to sponsor the bicentennial plate bill a couple of years ago. He had only a few days to draft the bill and get it moving in the House. But he made it so that the plate will be available for the era that will include Missouri’s statehood bicentennial, the centennial of the dedication of the state capitol, AND the national sestercentennial, the 250th anniversary.
This plate will be the one that most of us use. Its design will not affect those who like to have specialty plates on their vehicles—which caused us to look into how many specialty plates the state of Missouri issues. Wanna guess (turn away from the rest of this column for a few seconds before reading on for the answer)?
This year marks for fortieth anniversary, as nearly as we can tell from a Department of Revenue list, of the first specialty license plate. In 1977, the legislature allowed amateur radio operators and disabled veterans to have license plates with special designs.
Since then the legislature has added another two hundred and one. It almost seems as if everybody has a specialty license plate but hangnail survivors. And that doesn’t count the separate plates for various kinds of trucks, cycles, antique vehicles, and Lord knows what else.
Imagine being a police officer trying to run a license check. The first thing you have to do is figure out if it’s a Missouri plate. Take a look at http://www.theus50.com/fastfacts/licenses-state.php to see how many state plates are similar. Then imagine all of the car dealers who think they should turn your car into a mini-billboard by sticking their own license plate bracket on your car—which obscures some plate features that might make it easier to decide what state’s plate it is. A little road dirt, too, and the poor law enforcement officer has to struggle.
Well, anyway—Missouri is getting a new license plate that calls us to remember we didn’t get to be the way we are yesterday. It’s taken two centuries to make us what we are in the Union—and there were some years when a lot of misery was expended to determine that we’d continue in it.
The plate’s red, white, and blue motif suggests the colors of the stripes of our state flag. The wavy lines at the top and the bottom remind us that the great rivers have shaped and defined our borders and our character and opened parts of the state for settlement. They remain major influences today. The state seal is in the middle, as it is in the middle of our state’s greatest symbol—the capitol.
The Missouri Bicentennial, which is being coordinated by the State Historical Society of Missouri, will afford us a chance to consider how we got to be what and who we are. But we hope it also will afford us an opportunity to reflect on what we can be and should be in the years before a tercentennial plate is issued.
So it’s not just another piece of metal that should be on the front and back of our cars, whatever color they might be. And the reflective nature of the plate isn’t something of value only to police officers; it’s something for all of us.