The License Plate – Unnecessary Chaos

In 1901 the State of New York required that every owner of a vehicle register it with the state. Also, every automobile must have the owner’s initials displayed on the back of the vehicle. As is the case all too often with government mandates, the mandate was not well thought out.

The state of New York provided limited guidance on how the initials would be displayed. Only the size of the initials (3”) was specified. Vehicle owners had a choice of material to use, where it was placed, color, and other details. Some owners painted the initials on the vehicle. Obviously, this led to considerable confusion.

As any person would anticipate, there were numerous vehicle owners with the same initials. Imagine how ineffective and confusing the use of initials became. It took two years before vehicle owners were assigned a unique number. License plates with common features were not provided until nine years after the law was passed.

Massachusetts, learning from the disaster in New York, issued actual plates in 1903. The first plate had the number 1 and is still in use today. Over time, other states began requiring license plates. Idaho was the first state to imprint a slogan on its plate (Idaho potatoes). Pennsylvania began the practice of vanity plates.

It took 56 years for an agreement to be reached on a standard size for the plate. Without this standard, manufacturers had no guidance on where/how license plates would be mounted on vehicles. Seventy years after the first license plate mandate, the 3M Corporation developed a reflective material that increased the visibility of the license plate.

The follies of the introduction of the license plate have unfortunately repeated itself over and over again. Governmental mandates are often not thought out, and the result is often confusion, ineffectiveness, and in some cases, defiance. With sophisticated computer models available today, one would think that unforeseen consequences would be minimized, but that is not the case. There are looming disasters coming.

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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
– Benjamin Franklin

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