Vehicle registration plates of the United States
In the United States, license plates are issued by a department of motor vehicles, an agency of the state or territorial government, or in the case of the District of Columbia the city government. Some Native American tribes also issue plates. The U.S. federal government issues plates only for its own vehicle fleet and for vehicles owned by foreign diplomats. Until the 1980s, diplomatic plates were issued by the state in which the consulate or embassy was located.
The appearances of plates are frequently chosen to contain symbols, colors, or slogans associated with the issuing jurisdiction. The term license plate is frequently used in statutes, although in some areas tags is informally used. The term tag stems from small stickers issued periodically to indicate that the vehicle registration is current, rather than replacing the entire license plate each year.
- 1 Designs and serial formats
- 2 Showing current registration on plates
- 3 Life cycle
- 4 Mounting
- 5 Temporary/transit registrations
- 6 Plates for various types of vehicles and groups
- 7 Vanity and specialty plates
- 8 Professional and Governmental License Plates
- 9 General registration license plates
- 10 Diplomatic license plates
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Designs and serial formats
The appearances of plates are frequently chosen to contain symbols, colors, or slogans associated with the issuing jurisdiction. Formats for license plate numbers, which are usually alphanumeric, are designed to provide enough unique numbers for all motor vehicles a jurisdiction expects to register. For example, the small states Delaware and Rhode Island are able to use formats of 123456 and 123–456, respectively, while California uses the seven-character format 1ABC234, and several other populous states and provinces use a seven-character ABC-1234 or ABCD-123 formats. Other formats include those that use a county coding system or month of expiration is incorporated into the plate number.
Non-passenger vehicles tend to have their own special format and often have the vehicle type listed on the plate.
In the United States, many states and provinces distinguish their license plates through distinctive color schemes and logos, which historically have been changed annually. For example, the cowboy logo often associated with the state of Wyoming has appeared on that state's license plates continuously since 1936. Some early Tennessee plates were produced in a parallelogram shape approximating that of the state.
Vermont license plates have frequently featured a green and white color scheme, while Alaska has preferred yellow and blue. Other states and provinces, such as California, offer simpler schemes, often with a white background and little decoration.
Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have placed the address of the state's official or tourism web site on their general issue plates, with South Carolina to follow suit in July 2008. Most plates in Washington, D.C. contain the phrase "Taxation without representation" to highlight the District's lack of a voting representative in Congress.
Typically, the registration number is embossed – or, more rarely, impressed – onto the license plate. Other identifying information, such as the name of the issuing jurisdiction and the vehicle class, can be either surface-printed or embossed; Virginia, for example, does the former for passenger cars and the latter for most non-passenger vehicles. However, it is increasingly common in the U.S. for the registration number to be surface-printed using digital printing technology. Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas do so only for certain types of license plates, such as vanity plates and special issues; Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wyoming, Washington, and the District of Columbia have switched to the so-called "flat plate" technology for all their license plates. Delaware license plates have not been embossed for several decades. License plates originally were not embossed, but were merely flat plates in various forms, typically rectangular. It was found by the 1930s that they could be easily forged, and subsequently plates were embossed as the equipment to do this was not easily available to criminals wishing to create their own plates.
In 1956, the U.S. states and Canadian provinces came to an agreement with the Automobile Manufacturers Association that fixed the size for all their passenger vehicle plates at six inches in height by twelve inches in width, although these figures may vary slightly by jurisdiction. In North America, only Saint Pierre and Miquelon has not adopted these standards. (Although the Northwest Territories and Nunavut plates are cut in the shape of a polar bear, their mounting holes are compatible with those of the rest of Canada and the U.S.) Smaller-sized plates are used for motorcycles and, in some jurisdictions, mopeds and certain types of trailers and construction equipment.
Currently, the three oldest plate designs in use – each with slight to moderate cosmetic changes since their introduction – are that of Delaware (in production since 1959), Colorado (since 1960, continuously since 1978), and Minnesota (since 1978).
Showing current registration on plates
Historically, many U.S. and Canadian plates were replaced every year, although the most common practice in modern times is to send new validation stickers to vehicle owners every year or two, to indicate that the vehicle registration is still valid.
Tags that are not up to date quickly attract the attention of law enforcement, because registration "renewal" is a transaction that can usually be undertaken only by the car's registered owner, once certain requirements have been met, and because registration fees are a source of government revenue. A delinquent registration tag is often an indicator that the vehicle may be stolen, that the vehicle's owner has failed to comply with the applicable law regarding emission inspection or insurance, or that the vehicle's owner has unpaid traffic or parking tickets. Even with the tags, most states previously required that all license plates be replaced every few years; that practice is being abandoned by many states because of the expense of continually producing large numbers of plates. Maryland, for example, formerly mandated that all license plates be replaced every five years (except for apportioned trailers, which were registered on an eight-year schedule), but has not done so since 1986.
The sticker is usually placed on one corner of the plate, while the month of the year in which the plate would expire is printed in an opposing corner. Some jurisdictions combine the year and month on one sticker. In others, the plate's validation is a decal displayed from the inside of the windshield. The color of plate stickers and windshield decals often change annually, to allow for easier detection by police.
Most validation stickers are either serialized (with the serial number recorded on the registration), or are printed by a special printer at the time of registration or renewal with the vehicle's license plate number on them to discourage fraudulent sticker use, as the sticker will be valid only for the plate for which it was intended. In the District of Columbia, the license plate is validated with a windshield sticker that indicates the expiration date, the license plate number, the year and make of vehicle, and part of the vehicle identification number, thereby allowing easier detection of fraudulent use, as well as serving as a parking permit for neighborhood residents.
New York, Texas, and Washington, D.C. use windshield stickers exclusively, rather than plate stickers, for most vehicle classes. Connecticut switched to this method in September 2006, and in August 2010, eliminated issuing and requiring registration stickers completely, primarily as a cost-saving measure. New Jersey required the use of plate decals for a few years, beginning with November 2000 expirations, but has not required them on passenger cars since October 1, 2004. New Jersey passenger vehicles do not display any registration information other than the license plate itself.
Pennsylvania issued validation stickers for Philadelphia residents that were displayed in the lower left corner of cars' rear windows for a few years, ending in late 2003 with the last stickers issued bearing January 2005 expirations, due to problems with theft of stickers attached to the license plate.
In Hawaii, the case of vehicle registration dues are a heated debate between the counties. Vehicles are purchased at a discount on Oʻahu compared to the neighboring islands where there is usually only one dealer per vehicle make. Because the outlying counties issue plates starting with M (Maui County), K (Kauaʻi), or H (Big Island of Hawaiʻi), the source of the vehicle can be identified.
Under U.S. law, when a person moves to a new state, he or she is required to establish residency in the new state, which includes registering the vehicle with that new state's government – it will then issue a new plate or plates that must be attached to the vehicle. One prominent exception is active duty military service members; under federal law, they do not change their legal residence when they move to a new posting and are not obliged to re-register their vehicle with the state in which they are newly assigned. Undergraduate students attending college or university in a state other than their own are also typically exempt from transferring their registration, while graduate students are typically not exempt. A few states consider all students to be residents for purposes of vehicle registration. Accordingly, they must register and insure their vehicle in that state as well as obtain that state's driver's license. A few other states, such as New York, allow, although do not require, out of state students to register their vehicles in state.
When a vehicle is sold, the disposition of the license plates depends on state law and varies by state. In some states, license plates are transferred with the vehicle to its new owner. In other states, the license plates remain with the seller, who may, for a fee, transfer the license plates and any unused portion of the current registration to a new vehicle. Some states issue a new plate whenever the car is sold.
The various states have different schemes for reissuing license plates, a process known as "replating". In some jurisdictions, plates are issued on a permanent basis and are not replaced unless the owner requests a new plate or that his or her existing plate be remade. Other jurisdictions replate on a rolling basis, replacing a particular motorist's plate when it reaches a certain age. Other jurisdictions may recall a particular series of plates for reissuance at regular or irregular intervals. This is particularly common in jurisdictions in which only one license plate series or design is valid at any given time. Optional-issue plates may or may not follow the same rules for replacement as standard-issue plates, depending on the jurisdiction.
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Many U.S. states strictly enforce laws that require vehicles to display two license plates (on the rear and front of the vehicle). One possible benefit of front license plates is to increase the effectiveness of red-light cameras, which work only if a vehicle can be linked back to its registered owner. Opponents of two license plates usually do not like front plates on certain sports cars and historic cars because of their visual obtrusiveness from the vehicle and argue that they add cost to production, use resources (metal), create double the amount of waste and do not give police any extra tool in recovering stolen vehicles.
|Front and rear plates||Alaska, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming|
|Rear plates only||Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia|
|Front and rear for most, but not all, passenger vehicles||Massachusetts, Nevada|
There are some exceptions. Trailers are issued only one plate, even in states that otherwise issue front and rear plates to passenger vehicles, while certain other non-passenger types, such as apportioned may be issued in pairs even in states that otherwise issue only rear plates to passenger vehicles. Some vanity and specialty plates in Arizona and Kansas are issued in pairs, but only the rear plate is required to be displayed; the optional front plate is something of a bonus for paying an extra fee for the plate.
Massachusetts is a unique case for license plate mounting. Before the introduction of the current "Spirit of America" base starting in 1986 for commercial vehicles, and vanity plates in 1988 for all other vehicles, the state issued only a single green-on-white plate to be mounted on the rear bumper. With the current-issue base, two plates are issued, to be mounted on both the front and rear bumpers. Since all license plates issued since 1978 are currently valid, most passenger vehicles registered in Massachusetts display two plates, and those with the older green-on-white plates display only one.
In Nevada, all motor vehicles with the exception of motorcycles and trailers are issued two license plates. According to state law, most standard passenger vehicles issued with two plates are required to display them mounted on both the front and rear bumpers of the vehicle. Display of the front license plate is optional for vehicles that are not specifically designed to have a front plate, or the manufacturer did not provide a plate bracket or other means for front display of a license plate. The law to display both front and rear plates however is rarely enforced, and it is not uncommon for owners to remove manufacturer-supplied front license plate brackets from their vehicles and only display a rear plate.
When a person buys a vehicle from a dealer, the dealer is typically authorized to issue a temporary registration to allow the buyer to drive the vehicle until the government agency in charge of vehicle registration processes the registration forms.
Similarly, when a person buys a vehicle outside his state or province of residence, he can usually obtain a "transit registration" from the authorities of the state or province where the purchase took place. This transit registration will allow the new owner to drive the vehicle and to properly register and obtain license plates for the vehicle from his state or province of residence.
The physical indicia of such temporary or transit registrations can take a variety of forms, such as:
- a cardboard or lightweight plastic license plate, to be removed at the end of the temporary registration period;
- a standard metal license plate with temporary validation, in which case the government agency needs to issue only a validation sticker rather than a license plate; or
- a form or decal to be applied to a window of the vehicle.
Plates for various types of vehicles and groups
In the United States, there are several types of license plates that are issued to special passenger, non-passenger and non-private vehicles. Depending on the jurisdiction, such types may include:
Vanity and specialty plates
In each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, motorists are given the option of extra-cost vanity plates (also known as "personalized" or "prestige" plates), which are license plates with a custom serial (sequence of letters and/or numbers). Generally, vanity plates may not contain profane or obscene messages, although standards as to what constitutes an unacceptable message vary widely among issuing jurisdictions. In California, motorists may order symbols—a heart, hand, plus sign, or star—on one type of specialty plate. Other states, such as New Hampshire and North Carolina, also permit the use of certain punctuation symbols. The state of Virginia offers more than 200 unique designs for license plates. A tenth of all U.S. vanity plates are in Virginia, giving it the highest concentration of vanity plates issued by a state.
In some jurisdictions, vehicle owners may also pay extra for specialty plates. With these, the plate serial is chosen by the licensing agency—as with regular plates—but the owners select a plate design that is different from the normal licence plate. For example, an alumnus or student of an area university might purchase a plate with the school's logo, or an outdoorsman might decide to pay extra for a plate depicting a nature scene. A portion of the extra cost of these license plates often ends up as a donation for a related school or non-profit organization.
Certain classes of vanity plates may require proof of authorization, such as a person obtaining an amateur radio plate with their call sign must show their ham ticket. Persons obtaining disabled veteran or Medal of Honor or Purple Heart medal recipients must show proof of their disability and military service or their award of the specific medal, respectively.
One example of a specialty license plate was a plate issued in 1987 by the state of Florida to commemorate the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Proceeds benefit the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, and funded the construction and maintenance of the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Merritt Island, Florida. The current version of the plate, and the second revision since its inception, introduced in 2004, commemorates both Challenger and Columbia. It remained the most popular of all of Florida's specialty plates until it was overtaken by a plate to support the critically endangered Florida panther. In 2006, it was outsold by a plate for the University of Florida. Some states offer many "special interest" plates, while others offer only a few.
New Jersey offers an optional "animal friendly" license plate. The second generation of this plate was first issued in 2001 and features characters from the comic strip Mutts by Patrick McDonnell. A portion of the revenue from the plates goes to the New Jersey State Department of Health's Animal Population Control Program. Some states where stock car racing is popular issue special NASCAR-themed plates; a NASCAR fan can purchase a plate with the name and car number of his or her favorite driver, along with the state-issued alphanumeric sequence. Here, a portion of the extra cost goes to NASCAR as compensation for licensing its trademarks. States offering NASCAR plates featuring designs for different drivers are Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and West Virginia; Florida issues one NASCAR-themed plate. Some jurisdictions allow for some or all of their specialty plates to also be vanity plates, usually for an additional fee on top of the cost of the plate.
Normally such specialty plates can be purchased without proof of any particular status or affiliation, exceptions being plates which indicate membership or abilities of use in an emergency (e.g., firefighter, police, EMT, amateur radio operator). Also, some states require that the university plates be ordered through alumni associations.
In Indiana, a pilot program allows large fleet vehicle operators to customize an Indiana license plate specific to their organization. The United Parcel Service is the first such fleet operator to take advantage of this offering. This kind of specialty plate can only be purchased by the owner of the fleet and is not considered a general issue plate.
Other specialty plates include those for motorists with specific accomplishments or backgrounds; for example, a veteran who was a prisoner of war or a Purple Heart recipient may obtain a POW or Purple Heart specialty plate, respectively, after presenting documentation of his or her status to the registrar. In many jurisdictions, there is no charge (or at least no extra charge) for such a plate, in recognition of the veteran's service. Because specialty plates are government issued, they are required under First Amendment issues to be issued as a type to any group or organization that qualifies under the same terms as any other group to be issued a type of plate. The State of Maryland was going to revoke permission for use of the Confederate flag from a certain plate by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but a court ruled that the only way the state could do that was to revoke permission on all specialty plates.
Because of the ubiquitousness of license plates, special plates - or even regular ones - can raise controversy. The state of Colorado, in recognition of the shooting at the eponymous high school, released a license plate with the picture of the state flower, the Columbine, with the words "Choose Life" in a crayon-line scrawl. Some people complained that they felt the "Choose Life" saying was intended to be an anti-abortion message. Sometimes even ordinary plates can spark controversy. Neal R. Wooley did not like the state motto on his New Hampshire license plate, "Live free or die" and chose to cover it with tape. He was prosecuted and convicted for defacing a license plate. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705 (1977), that since one is compelled to have a license plate on one's vehicle, they are permitted not to have to show a message from the state to which they have a moral objection, and overturned his conviction.
In addition states may provide commemorative plates as a standard issue. A number of states issued plates recognizing the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. Several states have issued plates commemorating milestones in their own state; in 1998 Alaska celebrated the Centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush with new license plates showing prospectors on the trail to the Yukon. Tennessee commemorated its 1996 bicentennial celebration by issuing standard plates labeled "BicenTENNial" in the place of the state's name. Due to state budget problems, these plates remained standard issue until 2001, five years after the celebration had ended. States often issue plates with their motto or slogan, such as North Carolina's "First in Flight" and Ohio's "Birthplace of Aviation". These are arguably also general commemoratives. By law, all plates issued in Alabama must contain the words "Heart of Dixie" inside a small heart symbol. Over the years, due to sensitivities over the word "Dixie", the symbol (which currently resides in white letters inside a red heart) has been shrunken to the minimum size. In protest, proponents of the "Heart of Dixie" slogan often buy third-party decals with the slogan in much larger text, placing them over the current "Stars Fell On" slogan at the top of the plates.
All U.S. states offer specialized license plates for licensed amateur radio operators, in many cases at no extra charge or at a discount compared to standard vanity plates. Among the stated reasons in various state statutes for providing special amateur radio plates are to recognize amateur radio operators for their service, and to enhance visibility of amateur radio operators in an emergency. The owner's radio call sign is used instead of a standard-issue serial. At least one state —Texas— allows radio amateurs to have their call sign on the license plates of multiple vehicles that they own, in effect allowing more than one vehicle to share the same license plate number.
In New Jersey, people convicted of drunk driving are banned from using vanity plates. In Ohio, convicted drunk drivers are mandated to drive with special red-on-yellow license plates in exchange for limited driving privileges such as work. In Georgia and Minnesota, drunk drivers may be ordered to display a plate with a special numbering system indicating restricted driving privileges.
Delaware permits two things that have created an interesting secondary market in license plates. First, the state issues license plates with one-, two-, three-, and four-digit numbers. The governor of Delaware has license plate number 1, the lieutenant governor has number 2, and the secretary of state has number 3, but there are private owners who own some of the remaining single-digit tags. Second, owners are permitted to sell their licenses to other owners. Some of the low digit plates are made with white porcelain numbers, rather than the typical metal.
Under Delaware law, passenger car plate numbers lower than 87000 can be made into a reproduction porcelain plate by the Delaware Historic Plate Company, which is the only firm that offers such reproductions. The law requires proof of registration of the number being reproduced. Commercial plates lower than C9999, dealer plates lower than D9999, motorcycle plates lower than M/C9999, and amateur radio operator plates can also be reproduced.
The prestige of low-digit plates is such that three-digit plates can now bring $50,000 and two-digit plates can bring $200,000. One expert broker has estimated that a single-digit Delaware license plate can now bring $400,000 at auction. Delaware plate number 6 was sold at auction in February 2008 for $675,000.
Other jurisdictions also issue low-number license plates. For example, the District of Columbia reserves numbers 1 through 1250 for issuance at the discretion of the Mayor or City Council members.
Professional and Governmental License Plates
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Many states, such as New York and New Jersey, issue license plates to members of certain professions who require some sort of special privileges, such as parking or going behind police lines. Examples include plates for members of the press, doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics, volunteer firemen, judges, medical examiners, and elected officials.
In the United States, all states issue some special sort of license plate for vehicles which are owned by state and local governments, and the federal government issues plates for vehicles it owns, except for many belonging to the United States Postal Service, many of which use no plates. For the most part, the plates are similar to the regular passenger plates, except with a separate numbering sequence and/or with a message such as "government", "official", "state owned", "municipal", or "exempt" (from registration fees) replacing the slogan.
Some states use a distinctive color scheme to differentiate the plates from the regular issue. For example, in Virginia, state government license plates use the format "12-345S" and have a light blue background, while local government license plates use the format "123-456L" and have a tan background. The standard issue has a white background and a different numbering scheme. In Vermont, municipal government plates have a red background instead of the usual green background; State Police plates are green with yellow lettering instead of white, matching the color scheme of VSP patrol vehicles.
In Florida, government vehicles have a black-on-yellow scheme.
Governmental vehicles in North Carolina are issued permanent black-on-yellow (state-owned) or black-on-silver/aluminum (all other governmental) license plates.
Pennsylvania issues a white on blue (blue on white on earlier plates, some still in use) plate for state-owned vehicles (PA prefix/suffix which carry the OFFICIAL USE legend), municipal (MG prefix/suffix) and vehicles that are owned by Penn State, which carry the STATE UNIVERSITY legend. State-owned and Penn State-owned vehicles are also issued front plates, as are press photographers, however, the press photographer plates are issued on the standard base and carry a PP prefix inside a large keystone.
Government vehicles in Georgia are issued a plate in the standard design but a numbering series prefixed by "GV" and a decal on the left side of the plate indicating what type of government the plate is issued to (authority, (school) board, city, county, or state).
Georgia State Patrol vehicles have special-issue plates they are required to display on both the front and rear of the vehicle – most other vehicles in Georgia only have rear plates – that have an image of the GSP's patch and the trooper's badge number.
Most Washington State Patrol vehicles use the same format as passenger cars, with the exception that the letters are all "WSP". For example: 123 WSP. The format "1234 SP" may also be seen on WSP vehicles but not as common. In this format only the numbers change, with the SP (State Patrol) designation remaining constant.
The District of Columbia issues special license plates to vehicles owned by the D.C. government. Vehicles belonging to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority display standard license plates appropriate to the class of vehicle, with special validation stickers. Some marked police cars are issued standard plates, but most have a special white-on-blue "Police" plate. Fire department vehicles – except for fire engines – are issued special white-on-red plates. Fire engines in the District of Columbia do not have license plates.
In Honolulu, Hawaii, the license plates on TheBus matches the fleet number of the bus they are assigned to, using a BUS-123 format. Similarly, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston, Massachusetts places license plates on their buses featuring the agency's logo (a "T" inside a circle) followed by the bus number.
Michigan uses a unique "123X456" format for municipal vehicles (including municipal transit buses, public school buses owned and operated by the school district, and police vehicles), "123G456" for "in-transit repair" vehicles, "12D345" for dealer vehicles, "123M456" for vehicles owned by manufacturers of cars, "123T456" for transporter vehicles and "123Y456" for vehicles owned by non-profit agencies, such as church buses, buses of private schools, and chapters of the American Red Cross. Michigan State Police plates have the State Police shield on the left side, followed by a four-digit fleet number. The first two digits of this fleet number indicate the State Police post number where the vehicle is assigned. County sheriff plates follow the 12*345 format (the asterisk representing a six-pointed star), but feature a black background and white letters; the left two digits represent the number of the county in alphabetical order. Vehicles owned by the State of Michigan can also have a plate using the format of "MSG 1234" (where MSG stands for Michigan State Government) or a plate with the format of "X12345" with the caption "STATE GOVT" under.
In New York State, local police vehicles are not issued license plates. In some cases, such as New York City, the fleet number of the vehicle is put on a flat license plate using heat transferred letters. In Yonkers, there is a special plate that appears similar to the specialized optional plates with the Yonkers Police logo and the fleet number. Other communities in the state have a license plate that looks like the regular issue vanity plate, but with the word "POLICE" on it. New York formerly indicated rental cars with the sequence beginning with "0", but that apparently encouraged their targeting by car thieves.
Vehicles owned by a branch of the U.S. military may have a license plate issued by that branch of the military, although some utility vehicles will have no license plate at all, only an identification number applied directly to the body. The United States Postal Service adopts the same practice, especially for its delivery trucks. Vehicles owned by the U.S. General Services Administration will have plates issued by the GSA.
General registration license plates
Many states issue special plates to automobile dealers, auto repair shops, farms, and construction contractors, which are not tied to any particular vehicle. These users typically have many more vehicles on the premises than on the public streets, and it would not be practical to register and insure each individual vehicle. So, they hold a number of "floating" registrations for however many vehicles they plan to use on the public streets simultaneously. States typically have rules about who is eligible and how the plates may be used, and may impose record keeping and audit requirements.
Diplomatic license plates
Diplomatic license plates are issued by the United States Department of State to accredited diplomats. This is an exception to the general rule in the U.S. that license plates are issued by states, and not the federal government. However, prior to the 1980s, plates were issued by states, with New York issuing the most, followed by the District of Columbia.
Until 2007, plates issued to cars based in the District of Columbia follow the pattern of a letter identify the status of the owner, followed by the two-letter country code, followed by a four-digit number (S LL NNNN). For member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS), a subset of that numbering pattern is allotted to vehicles based at those countries' missions to the OAS. Plates issued to cars based at the United Nations in New York City are reversed, with the four-digit number first, followed by the two-letter country code, followed by the status code (NNNN LL S). This is because representatives of certain countries are limited to travel to certain radii from their base, and the system allows the city of assignment to be identified easily.
The status codes used until 2007 were "C" for Foreign Consul; "D" for Diplomat; "S" for Non-Diplomatic Staff; and "A" for a UN employee. The rights of the driver and car under diplomatic immunity are defined by this status code.
The country codes are unique to each particular country, but do not correlate to ISO Country Codes or other standards format. For example in the old system used until 2007, France is "DJ" not "F" and Australia is "XZ" not "AUS". This is to prevent the general public from targeting diplomats from particular countries.
Certain U.S. states issue Honorary Consul plates to U.S. citizens who have been appointed to that office and perform consular functions on a part-time basis.
U.S. diplomatic plate country codes:
- AA = Congo
- AC = Cote d'Ivoire
- AE = Uzbekistan
- AF = Japan
- AH = Madagascar
- AJ = Panama
- AK = Cape Verde
- AQ = Syria
- AU = Uganda
- AV = Israel
- AW = Organization of African Unity
- AX = Marshall Islands
- BK = unknown, spotted in Miami Jan 2014 and Washington, D.C. April 2014
- BL = South Africa
- BV = Solomon Islands
- BW = World Bank
- BY = Solomon Islands
- BZ = Iraq
- CB = Cambodia
- CC = Ethiopia
- CE = Moldova
- CG = Marshall Islands
- CK = Namibia
- CM = Micronesia
- CN = International Organization
- CS = Afghanistan
- CT = Bhutan
- CU = Botswana
- CV = Myanmar (Burma)
- CW = Cameroon
- CX = Burundi
- CY = People's Republic of China
- DA = Colombia
- DB = Costa Rica
- DC = Cuba (UN only)
- DD = Cyprus
- DF = Dominican Republic
- DG = Ecuador
- DH = Cote d'Ivoire
- DI = South Africa
- DJ = France
- DK = Greece
- DL = India
- DM = Iran (UN only)
- DN = Denmark
- DP = Bangladesh
- DR = Slovakia
- DZ = Palau
- FC = Soviet Union (discontinued)
- FF = Antigua & Barbuda
- FG = Central African Republic
- FH = Ireland
- FJ = Lebanon
- FK = Kenya
- FL = Liberia
- FM = Libya
- FN = Malta
- FP = Morocco
- FR = Philippines
- FS = Netherlands
- FT = Qatar
- FV = Sri Lanka
- FW = Holy See
- FX = Sierra Leone
- FZ = Suriname
- GC = Sweden
- GD = Ukraine
- GE = Azerbaijan
- GG = Zambia
- GM = Turkey
- GN = Turkey
- GP = Albania
- GQ = North Korea
- GX = Vanuatu
- GY = Chile
- HB = Tonga
- HD = Argentina
- HL = Saint Lucia
- HM = Andorra
- HN = Mongolia
- HV = Belgium
- HW = Guatemala
- HX = Benin
- HY = Guinea Bissau
- HZ = Haiti
- JB = Honduras
- JC = Kuwait
- JD = Mauritius
- JF = Nigeria
- JG = Portugal
- JH = Somalia
- JJ = Chad
- JK = Turkey
- JM = Yugoslavia
- JP = Tunisia
- JQ = Togo
- JS = Slovenia
- JT = Croatia
- JY = Cyprus
- KB = Monaco
- KD = Eritrea
- KE = Georgia
- KG = Equatorial Guinea
- KH = Hungary
- KJ = Lithuania
- KK = Fiji
- KL = Jordan
- KM = Jamaica
- KN = Gabon
- KP = Luxembourg
- KQ = Israel
- KR = Malaysia
- KS = Mexico
- KT = Namibia
- KU = Sao Tome & Principe
- KV = Saudi Arabia
- KW = Seychelles
- KX = Sudan
- LC = Venezuela
- LD = Vietnam
- LG = Turkey
- LH = Israel
- LJ = Israel
- LK = European Economic Communities
- LM = Macedonia
- LN = Saudi Arabia
- LR = Bosnia-Herzegovina
- LW = Germany
- MF = International Monetary Fund
- MG = unknown
- MK = Djibouti
- ML = Diego Garcia
- MN = Comoros
- MP = Bahamas
- MW = Maldives
- NA = Oman
- NB = Papua New Guinea
- NC = Paraguay
- ND = Romania
- NQ = Angola
- NX = Malaysia
- PA = Austria
- PB = Barbados
- PC = Belize
- PD = United Kingdom
- PF = Bolivia
- PG = Belarus
- PH = Czech Republic
- PI = Israel
- PK = Norway
- PL = Chile
- PM = Brunei
- PR = Argentina
- PS = Zimbabwe
- PV = Democratic Republic of Congo
- QA = Yemen
- QD = Burkina Faso
- QL = St. Kitts & Nevis
- QM = Bulgaria
- QN = Laos
- QP = Latvia
- QQ = Lesotho
- QR = Malawi
- QS = Mozambique
- QT = New Zealand
- QU = Nicaragua
- QV = Niger
- QW = Poland
- QX = Pakistan
- QX = Iran (DC only)
- QY = Yemen
- QZ = Indonesia
- RB = Rwanda
- RC = Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- RD = Senegal
- RL = Uruguay
- RM = unknown, Seen DC July 2013
- RO = Romania
- RQ = unknown, Seen DC February 2011
- RV = San Marino
- SF = Czech Republic
- SG = Israel
- ST = Dominica
- SX = Soviet Union (discontinued)
- TC = Mali
- TF = Algeria, Iraq (DC Only)
- TG = Canada
- TH = Egypt
- TJ = Germany
- TK = Liechtenstein
- TL = El Salvador
- TM = Iceland
- TN = Nepal
- TP = Mauritania
- TQ = Mali
- TR = Italy
- TS = Iraq (UN only)
- TT = Guyana
- TU = Guinea
- TV = Ghana
- TW = Gambia
- TX = Finland
- TY = Grenada
- TZ = Peru
- UA = Bahrain
- UF = Estonia
- UH = Spain
- UX = Trinidad & Tobago
- VF = Thailand
- VG = Tanzania
- VH = Switzerland
- VJ = Brazil
- VK = Singapore
- VL = Swaziland
- VM = Nauru
- WB = United Arab Emirates
- WD = South Korea
- WM = Western Samoa
- WZ = United Kingdom
- XA = Bangladesh
- XC = Fiji
- XD = Myanmar
- XE = Ghana
- XF = Turkey
- XG = Norway
- XY = Ireland
- XZ = Australia
- YA = Armenia
- YG = Unknown
- YJ = Tajikistan
- YK = Kazakhstan
- YM = Moldova
- YR = Russia
- YT = Turkmenistan
- YY = Kyrgyzstan
- YZ = Azerbaijan
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