May 20, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

Mad about Rhode Island’s license plate finalists? Get over yourself.

3 min read

Earlier in the week, Rhode Island officials had rolled out the five finalists for the state’s new license plates, and the choices were a tad underwhelming. Out of 940 submissions, we couldn’t get a drawing of Roger Williams or just steal the design from Buddy Cianci’s marinara sauce jar?

Meanwhile, South Dakota is the undisputed champion of license plates. With its bold blue numbers over a beautiful background of Mount Rushmore, it looks like it could have been crafted by a RISD student. And the slogan, “Great Faces. Great Places,” is pure genius.

Although their team came up short on the court, those fans wanted us to know that South Dakota wins on the road.

As you can probably imagine, this taunting, while completely accurate, didn’t actually happen. No one really feels that passionately about their state’s license plates or flags or slogans.

If you think that a governor should be voted out of office because the state’s license plates are too plain, or that a US commerce secretary shouldn’t be confirmed because she botched her state’s marketing tagline – hey, “Cooler and Warmer” – there’s a good chance that you have a little too much time on your hands.

Or maybe you just like to complain about everything.

In Rhode Island’s dramatic license plate search, the five finalists all have a similar feel. My favorite one spells Rhode Island in a fancy cursive font that will make it tricky when playing the license plate game with your kids.

But I’m comfortable with all of them, except the one with the yellowish-orange at the top and blue waves at the bottom. That’s too Mario Brothers for my taste.

Others seem genuinely concerned about the state of our license plates.

Tyler Smith, who created Rhode Island’s iconic “wave” license plate, told my colleague Brian Amaral that the current finalists are “sort of like clip art.”

A few graphic design professors offered even harsher takes.

John Caserta, an associate professor who teaches graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design, told Amaral the plate options are “incredibly safe, incredibly conservative.”

A professor at Johnson and Wales University said that she would require her students to redo the designs if they turned them in to her.

And of course, Twitter had a field day with the five designs, mostly using Anna Delvey gifs to complain about how basic they are.

It’s worth noting that Rhode Island isn’t required to redesign its license plates. But there is a law that, following guidance from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, requires the state to issue new license plates every 10 years, and we’re way overdue.

Democratic state Senator Lou DiPalma, a thoughtful guy who can go 12 rounds with you on everything from education policy to Medicaid reimbursement rates, became obsessed with the license plate issue because Rhode Island has had the same one for 25 years.

When the contest was announced, he said he liked that any Rhode Islander could submit an idea, but made it clear that he didn’t care what the plate looks like. His point of view wouldn’t fit on a license plate, but might work on a billboard: “It just needs to be drastically different from what we have now.”

It’s too soon to say which design will come out on top, but I say the DMV should issue limited edition plates that offer a different message, and maybe include that scary Friar Dom mascot.

“Quit Whining. Start Winning.”

Dan McGowan can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.