December 6, 2010

License Plate History

NEWS FOR YOU from the Iowa Department of Transportation

By Debra Carney
Driver’s License Supervisor
Driver’s License Services office
Davenport, IA

April 12, 1904, the 13th Iowa General Assembly required registration of motor vehicles and regulated their use on the highways. The registration fee was $1. The certificate of registration was a round aluminum tag measuring 3 ? inches in diameter. The numbered plates were to be affixed to the front and rear of the car. In 1904, the number of motor vehicles registered in Iowa was 931. In January 1922 every Iowa county was given an individual prefix number for its license plates. This prefix was followed by a dash and the number assigned to the individual motor vehicle. These early plates used black numbers on a white background, a color scheme selected by Iowa and five other states.

County numbers remained on license plates until 1979 when a series of three consecutive letters were assigned to each county. The letters were followed by three numbers. Blue and white license plates with town and country landscape were introduced in 1997 and remain in use today.

The Iowa Department of Transportation realizes there may be a number of those license plates still in circulation that are reaching the end of their useful life and are faded, worn or damaged, making them difficult to read. The Iowa DOT is considering a “rolling” replacement cycle that will replace only those plates that have reached an age that is beyond their useful life span. This would allow replacement of older plates without unnecessarily replacing the newer ones.

Changes are being considered for the new license plates by reversing the sequence of letters and numbers from the current use (three numbers followed by three letters) to an alpha-numeric sequence (three letters followed by three numbers). Also considered is changing those numbers and letters from dark blue to black to increase the contrast making them easier to read.

Motor vehicle owners may chose to replace plates that have become worn or faded; and Iowa law requires a motor vehicle owner to replace plates that are lost or have become illegible. The fee for a set of replacement plates (other than special plates issued to motor vehicle manufacturers, transporters, wholesalers, and dealers) is $5. A motor vehicle owner that needs to obtain replacement plates should contact the county treasurer in the county where the motor vehicle is registered.

There have been a variety of colored backgrounds and colored numbers, as well as a number of personalized or specialty plates in use over the years. And of course the number of motor vehicles registered in Iowa has changed a great deal as well with over 4 million registered in 2009.