Many of us have not driven around as much lately thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but if you have, you might have noticed some odd new license plates.
No longer are new Arizona plates issued sequentially, with each new plate off the line following the letters and numerical order of the last. Now, they are randomly generated seven-figure combinations.
What that means is plates can now be a mix of numbers and letters in random order, rather than three letters followed by four numbers.
It’s a technical change most likely to only be noticed by number fanatics and maybe law enforcement officers accustomed to scanning plates. And of course, most plates on the road are from the old system, as it will take years before the newly issued plates replace those already in service.
The change came in April, when the Arizona Department of Transportation updated a 35-year-old coding system for plates, ADOT spokesman Doug Nick said.
“It was most definitely in need of some change,” he said.
The new system gives the department more variety versus the old system that limited the available combinations. For example, people who wanted the Arizona Cardinals specialty plate for a motorcycle previously couldn’t get that because the system couldn’t code it, he said.
Meanwhile, the department is preparing to issue five new specialty plates, including one that honors military recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross decoration for heroism in flight.
“Now with the new system, we have just a tremendous ability for more capacity,” Nick said. “What that means is we can code every type of plate in the system.”
The plates are now created by a random number generator. Previously they were done in batches that began with a combination such as CFY or AYH followed by sequential numerals.
“You could get an idea of where you were in the continuum driving down the freeway,” Nick said.
The new system allows ADOT to meet the increasing number of specialty license plates approved almost annually by the state Legislature, he said.
Plates still are seven characters.
While rare, Nick said that people can request a new plate combination if the one they are issued includes some sort of combination they find inappropriate.
If you got a 666 combination … we would accommodate that. We would find a way to get you another plate,” he said.
ADOT is getting close to releasing five new specialty plates that state lawmakers approved, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and others raising money and/or awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, the Fiesta Bowl, Habitat for Humanity and sharing the road with bicyclists.
Some of the existing specialty plates are getting redesigned at the same time, he said.
“We like to do them all at once, rather than one by one,” he said.
ADOT doesn’t have a date when those plates will be available for purchase, but Nick said it will be “sooner rather than later.”
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