License Plate Standard

August 2016

AAMVA’s License Plate Standard provides jurisdictions with recommendations for consistency

Developed to aid jurisdictions in producing license plates that enhance accurate plate identification—while not limiting flexibility for innovation and multiple plate designs—AAMVA’s new License Plate Standard encourages jurisdictions to be consistent with the identifiable features on license plates for ease of interpretation.

The License Plate Standard, which will be released late this summer, focuses on three key aspects: administrative, design and manufacture. It serves as a complement to AAMVA’s Best Practices Guide for Improving ALPR Effectiveness through Uniform License Plate Design and Manufacture, which was published in 2012.

Adoption of the administrative, design, and manufacturing recommendations in the new License Plate Standard is meant to streamline the license plate retrieval processes within motor vehicle agencies; support highway safety; and increase revenue collection that is dependent upon being able to accurately identify license plates, such as toll collection, restricted lane access and parking regulations.

“While the new standard helps jurisdictions design plates in a more predictable manner, it still supports states having flexibility in the way they choose to design their plates,” says Cathie Curtis, director of vehicle programs at AAMVA.

Often, legislatures will mandate either a redesign of a plate or a brand new design. The working group that developed the standard encourages jurisdictions to share this document with all of their stakeholders, i.e., the group designing a specialty plate, the legislature, law enforcement partners and the vendors that produce the plates.

From a motor vehicle department viewpoint, “it’s easier to inform customers of the requirements up front so they can design a specialty plate to the correct specifications,” says William Childress, former director of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ Vehicle Services Administration and a member of the working group that developed the License Plate Standard.

Childress adds: “Until I got involved in developing the standards, I hadn’t considered the consequences of one jurisdiction having different license plate design standards than another; I didn’t really think about the importance of people [citizens and law enforcement] and plate readers being able to easily recognize the identifying information on the license plate. Especially in the cases of an Amber Alert or a crime, being able to correctly identify a vehicle’s license plate can have a huge impact.”

“From a law enforcement perspective, the license plate is very important to an officer—especially in identification of a vehicle,” says Capt. Robert Sawyer of the North Carolina License and Theft Bureau, another member of the working group. “I should be able to look at a plate and tell not only what state the vehicle is from, but also if it’s a valid license plate and what the registration that coincides with that vehicle is.”

“Being able to properly identify a license plate is critical to an officer’s safety,” says Brian Ursino, director of law enforcement at AAMVA. “Law enforcement who use license plate readers, supported by their vendors, follow the business rules of their jurisdiction for the accurate reading of plates. But if a vehicle is plated in a different jurisdiction that follows different business rules, officers may not get a ‘hit’ on a plate that has been flagged as being stolen, having an associated warrant, on a terrorism watch list or other hot file, when they should. It becomes an officer, public and traffic safety issue when potential hits aren’t being recognized and communicated to the officer.”

Ursino continues: “We certainly have no illusion that every jurisdiction will be able to adopt the new standards immediately, but we hope to move the needle toward standardization over time. Every time a new jurisdiction adopts the standard, and as we move closer to 100 percent uniformity, we should see improved officer, public and traffic safety.”