Try stopping at any red light at any intersection in Connecticut, glancing at the license plates of the cars around you, and not seeing any that begin with two letters, the first of which is an ”A”, followed by five numbers. It is harder to do than you’d think.
All those similar license plates, beginning with AA, AB, AC, AD, AE and so on, grow out of a new policy established in 2015 that began the sequential issuance of license plates letter-number combinations. The state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is currently rolling out the AU combinations, with AV up next.
DMV started issuing a seven-character sequence to increase the long-term inventory of license plates for basic vehicle registrations, according to officials. When the two-letter opening that begins with A is exhausted, the department will move on to BA, BB, BC, and so on. No word on when that is expected.
As of May 1, 2019, Connecticut had 3,023,124 currently active license plates on vehicles. There’s no word on how many of them are part of the sequencing that began in 2015. Anecdotally, however, they’re just about everywhere, as any walk thru a shopping mall parking lot or drive through any local town will usually demonstrate.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, in a 2016 report, License Plate Standards, noted that “The ability for motor vehicle agency employees, police officers, and citizens to quickly and easily identify license plate numbers (consisting of alpha and/or numeric characters) is fundamental to accurate vehicle registration data creation, maintenance, and retrieval.” The report added that “License plate recognition, by human eye and automated license plate readers (ALPR), is critical to serving these purposes.” The report does not issue recommendations regarding the letter/number combinations used by states.
Illinois began a similar sequencing system to Connecticut in 2017, and by January 2018 was issuing plates beginning with AQ.
Last year, the state of Wisconsin announced that it was moving from six-digit to seven-digit license plates, because the six-digit combinations had been exhausted. The six-character combination began in 1986. It started out with three letters followed by three numbers, then switched to three numbers followed by three letters in 2000 in Wisconsin. Officials there said the extra digit would give the state 100 million additional combinations.
Connecticut switch in 2015, according to published reports at the time, was driven by the difficulties in the sequencing that had been in use for the two previous years, when the state has issued plates of one number, followed by four letters, followed by one number: 1ABCD1, for example. That approach earned criticism from motorists and law enforcement, according to the DOT spokesman in 2015. That approach began when the three numbers followed by three letters - 123•ABC — used since 1980, was almost spent.
An August 205 computer upgrade at DOT made two letter-five number combinations possible, and it was estimated that 67 million possible combinations would result. It’s been almost two decades since Connecticut changed from the old white-on-blue style, which was used for about 40 years, to the current dark-blue-on- reflective light-blue.