PROVIDENCE — License plates in Rhode Island will be getting a makeover.
The Division of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday announced the opening of a design contest for the primary license plate, replacing the blue “Wave” design that’s been used for 25 years. The design is an iconic symbol of Rhode Island, as sure a sign of a fellow traveler as a “Hi Neighbor!” bumper sticker, but it’s been in use for 15 years too long, according to state lawmakers who have pressed to change it for years.
“We see and hear every day how much importance Rhode Islanders put on their vehicles and the way those look on the road or in their driveways,” Walter R. “Bud” Craddock, the DMV’s administrator, said in a news release. “We hope they embrace this generational opportunity to put their stamp on a symbol that transports a piece of Rhode Island to the rest of the country.”
The contest will run until the end of Jan. 7, about a month from now. People can enter online. The redesign doesn’t affect various charity plates, which can run the gamut from Mr. Potato Head to the Boston Red Sox.
Finalists will be selected by a panel of DMV staff by the end of February, and then Rhode Islanders will vote online to pick their favorite. They must not only represent Rhode Island in a positive light, they must also be easily set apart from designs of other states and existing charity plate designs.
License plates, especially those with low numbers or cheeky or ribald combinations, are a subject that can engender passions in Rhode Island. It’s part of the reason why people can’t get vanity plates for the time being in Rhode Island: A Tesla driver sued when the DMV tried to take away his license plate that said, “FK GAS.” The plate was on a Tesla, which doesn’t use gas. He won, on free speech grounds.
The state is still revising its policies on what sort of limitations it can put in place, if any, on certain number and letter combinations without running afoul of the First Amendment, Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi said. In the meantime, new vanity plates can’t be ordered.
But with license plates, it’s not just fun and games: Changing the design of the plates every few years will help identify cars on the road that aren’t registered, insured or inspected, said state Sen. Louis DiPalma, a Middletown Democrat who took up the cause.
“I’m ecstatic,” DiPalma said of the news of the redesign, noting that three previous governors failed to get it done until Gov. Dan McKeee did.
When they start to roll out next year, people who re-register their car will have to get the new plate. They’ll pay $8 to help recoup some of the cost, but that won’t cover the whole cost, estimated at $2.5 million. Because people have to re-register every two years, the wave plates should eventually recede entirely from view.
The only ones on the road after that would be those that aren’t insured, putting other motorists at financial risk; ones that aren’t inspected, putting people in physical danger; and ones that aren’t registered, keeping city and town excise tax collectors at bay.
The DMV said entrants should consider in their designs the following: Only four spot colors, including black; designs that require lots of ink behind the numbers and letters should be avoided; lighter backgrounds and darker characters are preferred; and the words “Rhode Island” must be at the top center and “Ocean State” at the bottom center.
The contest is open to “all RI residents and students at RI schools, colleges, and universities,” the DMV says.
One Rhode Island resident who won’t be putting a design in: DiPalma.
“I don’t care what the plate looks like,” DiPalma said. “It just needs to be drastically different from what we have now.”