The Problem With Dark Blue and Yellow License Plates

Over the past few years, states across the United States have been updating their license plate designs. The reason centers on the lettering. The license plate above — issued by the state of Kanas from April 2007 through mid-August 2018 — shows the problem. The numbers and letters (045 BKR in this case) are embossed on the plate, and over time, they can wear down. As David Harper, a state official, explained to the Kansas Reflector, “Many of the embossed plates out on the road have become difficult to read due to significant deterioration. Replacing these plates will not only help law enforcement but ensure that drivers can be easily identified in case of emergency.”

Seems reasonable enough. So in November of 2023, Kansas proposed a new plate with flat letters, a design that every car registered in the state would need to switch to when their registrations came up for renewals.

Here’s what the state came up with:

Don’t see an issue? You’re probably not from Kansas — or from Missouri.

Kansas and Missouri border each other and, like many other states that share a border, are rivals of sorts. And when the Kansas government unveiled the design above on November 22, 2023, the Kansas faithful weren’t happy with it. The color scheme — wheat yellow and a midnight blue — was too familiar to the University of Missouri’s colors, seen here. Here are some choice quotes from anonymous Kansasans, via FOX4, a local news station:

“It looks a lot like Missouri Tigers. I’m not a fan of that,” said one Kansan, speaking to FOX4 at Kansas Sampler Oak Park.

“I think that leaves it very open to trash talk. It just doesn’t look right to me,” said another Kansan.

“I have a son who went to KU. My wife graduated from KU as well. Mizzou’s a big no for us,” said another.

Silly? Perhaps. But the outcry was intense and near-unanimous — so a week later, the governor, Laura Kelly, reversed her administration’s design decision. Kelly, per KSNT, the local NBC affiliate, stated “I promised to be a bipartisan governor, and I think we can all admit – I succeeded at bringing Kansans across the political aisle together in disliking this new license plate. I’ve heard you loud and clear. Elected officials should be responsive to their constituents, which is why we are adjusting the process so Kansans can provide direct input on our state’s next license plate.”

A few weeks later, the state released five different designs — you can see them here — and allowed Kansas citizens to vote for their favorites. Nearly 270,000 people voted in the competition; for comparison’s stake, only about three times as many people voted in the 2022 election for U.S. Senator from the state. A majority —53% — opted for a design, seen here, “featuring the Kansas Statehouse dome within a cutout of the state and a yellow, white, and blue gradient background” as described by the governor’s office. In other words, it looks nothing like anything you’d find at the University of Missouri.

Bonus fact: New Mexico has a problem with its license plate that no other states suffer from — some authorities see “New Mexico” and think that the driver and the car come from another country. Since 1969, many of New Mexico’s license plate designs, such as the one seen here, have the letters “USA” on the plate right after “New Mexico,” “to help geography-challenged people in other states know where we’re from,” per the Albuquerque Journal. No other state puts “USA” on their plates

From the Archives: iPlates: How Steve Jobs avoided putting a license plate on his cars.