License Plates

Transportation Nation

Freakonomics Radio: Unintended Consequences of Trying to Control Traffic

Thursday, October 11, 2012

(photo by tsfisher via flickr)

The latest Freakonomics Radio podcast takes on something the called "The Cobra Effect." (Visit their web page for a full explanation; the short version involves a disastrous attempt by the Indian government to get rid of cobras.)

A finance professor who was visiting Bogotá, Colombia, noticed that his friends never picked him up in the same car two days in a row. Why? Vehicle use is restricted based on the last digit of the license plate. And the professor's friends had found a legal way to circumvent that rule: purchase another car. So a plan intended to decrease driving may actually have increased car ownership.

Listen to the story below. Or read the transcript here.




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Transportation Nation

Specialty License Plates Generate Revenue -- and Controversy

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Montana license plate (photo by Spappy.joneS via Flickr)

(Billings, MT-Yellowstone Public Radio) Most motorists face a daunting choice when they renew their license plates at their local motor vehicle department: do I accept the state-issued plate or get a specialty plate that costs a little more?

“I think that people chose a specialty plate for one of two reasons,” says McKinzie Ulberg, specialty plate liaison for the Montana Motor Vehicle Division. “The first reason being they want to sponsor the organization and the second reason being it looks pretty on their car.”

License plates serve as a driving billboards for numerous organizations. Because of that, they can be the source of controversy.

In Texas, the state Department of Motor Vehicle’s board is grappling over whether to approve a plate design sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans which features the confederate flag. The Los Angeles Times quoted state Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston as saying, “That battle flag is clearly a symbol of hatred and bigotry.” The board deadlocked on the issue earlier this year.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans have won court battles to have its license plates in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

In some states, it is up to boards, like in Texas, to approve an organization’s license plate design. In other states, it is up to the Legislature. In the case of Sons of Confederate Veterans, Florida state lawmakers refused to approve their plate. The group again sued and won in court.

Specialty license plates can be controversial, says Brenda Nordlund, administrator of the Montana Motor Vehicle Division. She says prior to 2001, Montana organizations that wanted to get their logo on a state license plate had to get legislative approval and then a signature from the governor.

“And you would go and deal with all the intricacies of ‘yes’ ‘no’ for that organization,” Nordlund says. “You get into some of those political considerations in that situation where legislatures make a decision based on their worth or how they perceive a particular organization.”

Montana's top selling sponsored specialty license plate that benefits Glacier National Park

Nordlund says the 2001 Montana Legislature gave the state Department of Motor Vehicles administrative authority to approve specialty plate designs. “It took some of the politics out of it,” she says.

Montana currently offers 161 specialty license plates, benefiting everything from the Montana Weed Control Association to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. A new report from the Montana DMV says sales of collegiate plates raised over $179,000 for student scholarships in the first quarter of fiscal year 2012; sales of specialty license plate sales for organizations raised nearly $848,000 in the same period. State officials expect those numbers to grow.

The latest national report on specialty plates comes from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators issued in 2010. Maryland leads the states with over 800 specialty license plates.

You can see pictures of more Montana license plates on Flickr.

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