Specialty license plates increasing in popularity

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Nature plate is most popular specialty plate in Kentucky.

By Leslie Moore



Drive around town for a few minutes and you're almost guaranteed to spot a unique license plate.

While the majority of Kentucky's vehicles feature the standard "Unbridled Sprit" plate that debuted in 2005 or the "In God We Trust" plate that became available in 2011, 24 percent of vehicles have specialty license plates.

Specialty license plates allow drivers to show their support for a particular school or other organization, or to simply accent their personal style.

Taylor County Clerk Mark Carney said Kentucky offers a large selection of specialty plates and several more have been added in the last year.

However, drivers who opt for a specialty license plate have to pay more than the standard $21 registration fee to get one.

"Part of the fee on a lot of the special plates will go toward a particular organization that the plate helps sponsor," Carney said.

According to Carney, specialty plates range from $31 to upwards of $60.

Collegiate plates, which let drivers show pride for their alma mater or favorite sports team, cost $56. Carney said the clerk's office keeps Campbellsville University, Lindsey Wilson College, St. Catharine College, University of Louisville and University of Kentucky license plates in stock because they are the most requested collegiate plates in this area.

"These college plates, we don't carry all of them, so if someone wanted a special college plate, they would have to wait a couple days for us to get that in," Carney said.

According to Lisa Tolliver, spokesperson for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the nature plate, which supports the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund and features a bobcat, cardinal or butterfly, is the most issued specialty plate in Kentucky. Issued in 1995, 46,564 nature plates have been sold.

Carney said these plates are a popular choice among Taylor Countians.

The "Friends of Coal" plate, recognizable for its distinct black color and white lettering, is the second most popular specialty plate in Kentucky, with 45,398 sold since it became available in 2009.

"The coal plate is more popular here than I expected," Carney said. "I mean, I'm sure in Eastern Kentucky that thing's going off the shelves."

While the Cabinet does not have a breakdown by county, Carney and deputy clerk Toni Burress say there have been several sold in Taylor County.

"The coal plate has become a very popular plate," Burress said. "I've been selling a lot of them."

Rounding out the top three is the Kentucky Horse Council plate with 24,359 sold. The plate, which was redesigned last year, is one that Carney is considering purchasing for himself when his renewal period comes up.

As the popularity of specialty license plates continues to increase, more organizations are looking into having their own plate created. However, getting approved for a new plate is not a simple process.

"For a particular plate to be sanctioned by the transportation cabinet and be printed, initially there has to be applications submitted for 900 of them by persons who want them," Campbellsville Police Chief Tim Hazlette said.

A $25 fee must be included with every application sent in.

President of the Kentucky State Police Association, Hazlette said the group is trying to get enough applications for a specialty plate of their own.

"We're at about 100 now, so we're still 800 short of where we need to be," Hazlette said.

Only after all 900 applications are submitted will the Cabinet print the plates. Those who sent in the application and paid the fee will then be notified once the plates become available.

But even those organizations that meet the necessary requirements will have to wait.

"Right now, the production of specialty license plates [is] on hiatus as the state readies for a new vehicle registration system to be finished and implemented at county clerk offices," Tolliver said. "However, organizations can still get their applications ready and begin the process."

And while the popularity of specialty plates is not expected to wane anytime soon, some members of law enforcement say they wish they would.

"They are hard to read, especially for an old man like me," Taylor County Sheriff Allen Newton said. "I guess if you have good eyesight, but they're still hard to read at night."

Newton said license plates are put on vehicles for the purpose of identifying them, not for decoration.

"I know the state makes money off it, but it looks like they would design it to make them easier to read," Newton said.

Hazlette said he has not had many issues with specialty plates since a change was made in recent years that requires all specialty plates to have six digits or letters, the same number as standard plates.

But according to Johnnie Jessie, senior dispatcher at Campbellsville E-911 Communications Center, the letter placement on specialty plates has been known to cause some problems, especially for the general public.

"Probably the biggest problem we have with those is there's four numbers and two little letters," Jessie said. "They can read the four numbers but may not be able to see the two letters. You have to have all that in order to run it."

Jessie said the small size of the letters makes reading plates difficult to see, especially when drivers call in to report other drivers.

"They make the letters so little that you can't hardly see them - a lot of people won't get that close to a car, especially if they think they're drunk or something like that," Jessie said.

Specialty plates don't look to be outlawed anytime soon, so for those planning to get a specialty license plate, Carney said there are some facts to know.

While drivers can get a specialty plate at anytime, Carney advises waiting until it is time for renewal before changing plates to avoid paying extra fees.

Unlike standard plates that stay with the vehicle, when a driver buys a special plate, it is theirs to keep until the driver decides to change it.

"They need to bring their regular plate in and turn it in to us to get a special plate," Carney said.

Although the clerk's office now keeps electronic records of insurance status, there have been some issues with insurance companies not submitting the necessary information, so to avoid any unnecessary delays, Carney recommends bringing proof of insurance card.

And lastly, glance at the bulletin board displaying some of the license plates available for drivers.

"There's no other office that has a board like that, we've been told, to let people know what they can do," Carney said. "We put that board up 10 years ago just as a way to decorate for the office."