Few of us pay much attention to license plates. They're just slices of metal printed with numbers and letters -- useful for identification purposes, but little else.
But like everything in our manufactured world, license plates are fully designed objects. People spend months, if not years, choosing the proper colors for new plates, appropriate background images, fonts -- and that's just for the basic state-sanctioned plates. Custom plates, like those associated with universities or social causes, can require even more planning to ensure that they comply with regulatory standards and look good enough to attract consumers.
If you live in a metropolitan area or near a major highway, you've probably become passingly familiar with a number of license plates from different states. Heck, you might even have a few favorites. How do your preferences line up with those of your fellow Americans?
The tireless pollsters at CarInsurance.com wanted to know just that -- or more specifically, they wanted to know which state plates Americans find most and least attractive. So, the site set up a page where folks could cast their votes.
After 2,000 visitors had voted, some clear winners emerged, with Wyoming's colorful cowboy-themed plate nabbing the top spot. It was followed by Hawaii, then Utah. (Since the voting is ongoing, the battle for the #2 spot continues: as of this morning, voters had flipped the two states, putting Utah in second place.) All in all, visitors' top-ten favorite license plates were:
7. South Carolina
What most of those plates have in common is a colorful background that evokes the state it represents. Florida's plate, for example, has a silhouette of the state and a few of the state's well-known oranges. Alabama's plate features a peaceful water scene, a sight familiar to anyone who's visited Mobile or Gulf Shores.
The plates at the other end of the scale tended to be much duller and utilitarian. Delaware got the most down-votes -- and given its plain, dark blue background and gold lettering, we can see why. It says nothing about the state, and it's not exactly easy on the eyes. Arkansas and Michigan are duking it out for the #2 and #3 berths: the former features an uninspired diamond in the center of the plate, which few people outside the state associate with Arkansas, while Michigan's plate features a subtle, generic wave at the bottom. After 2,000 votes, the ten least-favorite plates were:
44. District of Columbia
46: New York
In addition, the website asked voters how they felt about creating special license plates for special classes of drivers. Opinions were mixed on whether to mark drivers of a certain age or skill level, but people were more willing to slap a metaphorical scarlet letter on those convicted of illegal conduct. (Which seems a little creepy and mob-mentality-ish to us, but we're softies.) Among those surveyed:
- 49.4 percent said that they liked the idea of special license plates for drivers over 70.
- 57.9 percent said that they liked the idea of special plates for novice drivers.
- 59.8 percent said that they liked the idea of special plates for those convicted of texting and driving.
- 69.1 percent said that they liked the idea of special plates for drivers convicted of a DUI.
While those questions aren't up for discussion anymore, you can still weigh in on the relative merits of license plates. Cast your own vote here, then have a look at the five highest- and lowest-ranking plates. (Scroll down that page for a link to see how your own state as fared if it's not in the top or bottom five.)