Vehicle registration plates of Massachusetts
Passenger plates 1903 to 1966
In 1956, the U.S. states and Canadian provinces came to an agreement with the Automobile Manufacturers Association that fixed the size for license plates for vehicles, except those for motorcycles, at six inches in height by twelve inches in width, with standardized mounting holes. The 1955 (dated 1956) issue was the first Massachusetts license plate that complied with these standards.
Passenger plates 1967 to present
For twenty years, starting in 1967, Massachusetts used three series of license plates that were nearly identical (Blue on White, Red on White, and Green on White). All had the identical semi-rounded letters and numbers and the word MASSACHUSETTS embossed in the same style, with an embossed quarter-inch border a quarter inch from the edge of the plate. The plates changed color twice, in 1972 and 1977; the red plates moved "MASSACHUSETTS" to the bottom of the plate, but the blue 1967 and green 1977 plates had it on the top.
The current "Spirit of America" plates were introduced in 1987. The red number typeface remains virtually the same (though since 2005 the 1s have been serifed and 2010 the "D's" have changed shape to be discernible from a distance), but the border was dropped, and the state name is no longer embossed; it is italicized and blue, and no longer all capital letters. Additionally, the slogan "The Spirit of America" (from an advertising jingle from the early 1980s) was added in the same italicized blue typeface at the bottom. General registration plate, such as Dealer and Repair plates inverse the colors, Mass and Spirit in Red, number in blue.
Since 1969, serials on Massachusetts plates are coded with the month of expiration of the registration as the last numeric character, using 1 for January through 0 for October. X and Y were used from 1969 to 1977 for November and December. Registrants are issued plates expiring the last day of the previous month (i.e., a motorist registering a vehicle in June will be issued May plates). If a vehicle is registered in December or January (so that November and December plates would be called for), leftover plates are issued from other months with manufacturing overruns.
In addition to the standard numbering formats, Massachusetts also issues "reserve" plates. Reserve plates permit the plate holder to receive the same plate number when new plate styles are issued, or to transfer the plate number to family members. These plates are either all-numeric (1 through 99999) or consist of a single letter followed or preceded by a number (A 1 through Z 9999 and 1 A through 9999 Z). Reserve numbers may also be in the form of A#A, A##A, #A#, and #AA#, where # represents any number, and A represents any letter. Low number reserve plates (now called "Lottery Plates" by the RMV), are of the form #, ##, ###, ####, A#, A##, #A, and ##A only. When a registrant cancels a low number reserve registration, the number is placed in an annual lottery ( ). Registration for the lottery generally begins each June, and the drawing must be held by September 15. Prior to the institution of this annual lottery[when?], low digit reserve plates were issued only to well-connected individuals, and it is widely believed that drivers with low registration numbers were given preferential treatment by law enforcement. The annual lottery was instituted in response to complaints about the politics behind the issuance of low-number registrations. As with standard registration plates, the final digit on low number reserve plates also indicates the month of expiration.
Two year registrations are mandatory, with the exception of vehicles initially registered during December or January. Vanity plates and motorcycle plates must be renewed annually. All vanity plate registrations expire on November 30, and all motorcycle and commercial registrations expire on December 31.
Starting with the 1987 "Spirit of Massachusetts" base, the three-letter abbreviation for the month of expiration is either embossed or screened in the upper left corner of the plate, with the exception of vanity plates which do not have the expiration month (NOV) screened or embossed. 'Red' Commercial were initially stamped without the month on the upper left corner, however that has since been added.
Currently, the only common license plate issued in the Commonwealth that is allowed to have more than 6 digits is Livery plates. All livery plate numbers start LV, even if not stamped.
Because the Registry of Motor Vehicles utilizes "Plate Type" to describe the type of registration, it is theoretically possible to have two plates issued with seemingly the same number. The follow describes some, but not all of the types, and the code used on vehicle registration:
- PAN - Passenger: Normal
- PAR - Passenger: Reserved
- PAS - Passenger: Specialty (Antique, Veteran, Environmental, Sports, Spay & Neuter, Breast Cancer, United We Stand, etc.)
- PAV - Passenger: Vanity
- PAY - Passenger: Year of Manufacture (Antique plate with year stamped; AN gets added to the beginning of plate number on registration)
- CON - Commercial: Normal (plates starting SR are for snow removal; HR for Hearse)
- COR - Commercial: Reserved
- COV - Commercial: Vanity
- MCN - Motorcycle: Normal
- MCR - Motorcycle: Reserved
- MCS - Motorcycle: Specialty
- MCV - Motorcycle: Vanity
- AHN - Camper: Normal
- AHR - Camper: Reserved
- AHV - Camper: Vanity
- AMN - Ambulance: Normal (includes Animal Ambulance)
- AMR - Ambulance: Reserved
- LVN - Livery: Normal
- LVR - Livery: Reserved
- LVV - Livery: Vanity
- SPN - School Pupil: Normal
- TAN - Taxi: Normal
- TAR - Taxi: Reserved
- TRN - Trailer: Normal (not used on Camper trailers)
- TRR - Trailer: Reserved
- VPN - Van Pool: Normal
- SBN - School Bus: Normal
- SBR - School Bus: Reserved
- BUN - Bus: Normal
- BUR - Bus: Reserved
- BUV - Bus: Vanity
|Image||Dates issued||Design||Serial format||Serials issued||Notes|
|1967–68||blue on reflective white with border line; "MASSACHUSETTS" at top||123·456
|Revalidated with windshield stickers through the end of 1969, then with plate stickers until 1972–73.|
|1969–71||123·45A||Coded by month of expiration (see right)||Staggered registration and plate stickers introduced with this serial format; the last digit corresponded to the month of expiration from January (1) through October (0), while X and Y suffixes corresponded to November and December respectively. Replaced 1972–73.|
|1972–78||red on reflective white with border line; "MASSACHUSETTS" at bottom||1A·2345
|Coded by month of expiration (see right)||Same month code system as on 1969–71 plates. 12A·340 format used only on plates expiring in October. Issued in alternating weeks from 1977, following the introduction of the green-on-white base (below), until supplies were exhausted. Replaced 1982–83.|
|1977–93||green on reflective white with border line; "MASSACHUSETTS" at top||123·ABC||100·AAA to 999·VZZ (see right)||Only rear plates issued (except for reserved and non-passenger plates). On all plates, the last digit corresponded to the month of expiration, with November and December expirations discontinued except on non-passenger plates and on red-and-white plates until 1980–81. All-numeric plates were generally issued to holders of the same serials on the red-on-white base. Still currently revalidated.|
|1983–93||123·456||100·000 to 999·999 (see right)|
|1987–present (vanity plates, low number reserve, and certain non-passenger types only)
1993–present (all plates)
|red on reflective white; "Massachusetts" and "The Spirit of America" screened in blue at top and bottom respectively||Coded by month of expiration:
|999·ZZZ to 100·WAA (reverse issue, final digit varied by month)|
|123·0AB||100·9AA to ??? (final digit varied by month)|
|1230 AB||??? to 9999 ZZ (final digit varied by month. January issued only through approx. 9991 TZ)|
|12A B30||10A A00 to 99Z Z00, then 10A A10 through 99Z Z10 and so on through 99Z Z90. Final digit varies by month.|
|123 AB0||100 AA0 to 999 ZZ9. Final digit varies by month. October expirations discontinued after NZ0 series due to confusion with previous 123·ABC format.|
|1AB 230 (all serials exhausted for October)
1ABC 20 (current format for October)
|1AA 000 to present. Final digit varies by month.|
Current passenger base plates
Currently, the 1977 green-on-white base as well as the 1987 "Spirit" base is valid for registration. The 1977 base only issued a single (rear) plate (Except Reserved, Commercial, and Taxi. Two plates were issued, thus both must be displayed, even today) whereas for the current "Spirit" base, two plates are issued. Registrants have the option of replacing the 1977 base with the "Spirit" base at no charge (though a different number will be used), however, most choose to keep their 1977 base plate as a point of pride. In many cases, the 1977 base plates are worn and illegible; legally per M.G.L. Ch. 90, a car with an illegible plate (regardless of age or color) must fail the state's annually required vehicle safety inspection. This is a safety fail, which under Mass law prohibits operation of the vehicle until the issue is corrected.
- Massachusetts license plates 1969–present
- Passenger Plates Booklet July 2014. Registry of Motor Vehicles (MassDOT). Retrieved 2014-07-02.
- Pro-Life License Plates Available in Massachusetts. June 21, 2010. LifeSiteNews.com. Retrieved 2010-06-22.