Get ready for 7-digit car licenses


The in basket: I invented a mental exercise game several years ago based on the order of letters on  license plates. When I see one, I try to make the shortest word possible that uses the license’s three letters in the order they appear on the plate.

So a plate reading RWD 123, for example, could be used for “Rewind” or “Reward,” but “Rowdy” or “Rowed” would win because they are shorter.

Not all combinations work, of course. The other day, when I saw a plate with the letters XXQ, I didn’t even try. But it reminded me that the state is almost out of the possible combinations of letters and numbers under the present license format of three numbers and three letters.

Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing told me in 2005 that day would arrive in about four years. I asked him now if the new format had been chosen.

The out basket: “Why yes,” Brad said, “the decision has been made. We project that we will run out of ‘general issue’ license plate numbers sometime around the end of this year, possibly in November.

“Back when we saw the end coming for our current … configuration,” he said, “we studied all of the different configuration options to determine which (new) type would least conflict with existing or past license plate series, including personalized plates and series issued for other types of vehicles), what would give us an optimal number of different combinations, and what would be preferred by our law enforcement partners. We also looked carefully at how other states were handling this issue.”

They chose a system similar to California’s, using seven characters, which will always begin with a number, then have a letter, two more numbers, then three letters. An example that should be the first one issued when the new scheme is put into use is 1A11AAA.

“This configuration will offer 456,976,000 license plate number combinations.” he said, minus those that form words that might offend people. The configuration just running out, in use the past 22 years, offered about 17.5 million combinations.

Truck licenses, the current format for which went into use in 1995 and has about 150 years worth of numbers yet to use, will remain unchanged, with five numerals and a letter on each end.

The new car license format won’t gladden the heart of Jim Brophy of Tracyton, who used this column back in 2007 to urge against choosing it, calling it too cumbersome. But at least my little game will survive the change. Maybe I can even incorporate the fourth letter.

3 thoughts on “Get ready for 7-digit car licenses

  1. A question for either Mr. Baker or Mr. Benfield:

    If we select from all the digits 0 through 9 for the first digit of the new 7-character license plates, then it’s true, as Mr. Benfield says, that we can come up with 456,976,000 unique license plate combinations. My question is (while admitting ignorance on this subject matter), is the nought (zero) usually one of the digits utilized as the first digit of a license plate? If not, then there are only 411,278,400 possible unique combinations. Not trying to be nitpicky, just interested.

  2. Maybe if the state didn’t require you to replace your plates every several years for “reflectorization” and CHARGE EXTRA to keep your existing plate number, they wouldn’t run out of numbers quite as fast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

Is water a solid or a liquid at room temperature?