LOW-DIGIT LICENSE PLATES

China has taken an interesting approach to traffic congestion. In Beijing, a car buyer must first win a lottery for a license plate in order to be able to purchase a vehicle. The practice was started in 2011 as Beijing is a city of over 13 million residents, with more than half eligible to drive. They offered up 150,000 plates in 2017 but only 100,000 in 2018. Additionally, the majority of the license plates issued annually may only be applied to new electric-only vehicles. Anyone with outstanding court issues is banned from applying, as are people with other infractions on their records. In Beijing in 2018, the odds of receiving a license place in the bimonthly lottery are as low as 1 in 2,000. Beijing further restricts driving in the city, only allowing Beijing-registered vehicles during the peak driving times within the city. Beijing has set a cap of 6.3 million vehicles registered to city residents, which is expected to be met next year.
 
Delaware’s low digit licenses are sought after and easily command mid-6-figure prices or higher for a 2-digit number. Four-digit plates are often transferred between owners for 4-digit license plate values along with the added value of the vehicle they reside on. The State of Delaware has begun queuing up 5-digit plates and issuing them on 5-digit plate days. While some 5-digit plates may command a few dollars of added vehicle value when transferred between owners, plates that the state takes in are reissued free.
 
What state in the U.S. employs a lottery system for issuing their low-character-count plates?
 
Answer
In August and September each year, Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (MRMV) holds their annual Low Plate Lottery. Massachusetts residents with an existing insured and registered vehicle are invited to apply for a low character-count license plate. In mid-September the MRMV announces the lottery winners. Residents may enter only once, even if they have multiple vehicles registered in Massachusetts. The lottery system selects an additional 25 winners for any awarded plates that are not collected within three months of notification. Massachusetts is the only state at present using a lottery system for awarding special license plates.

Massachusetts license plates are up to seven alphanumeric characters in length. In 2019 there are 230 plates available with two, three or four characters, which are the only plates available for the lottery. The available plates will be awarded in the order the available plates are listed on the MRMV website. Winners may not request a specific plate, but if two winners choose to show up at the same time when retrieving their winning plates, they may swap them during the registration process. A winner must have no outstanding payments due the state for things such as taxes, traffic citations, E-ZPass tolls, court costs, or other legal infractions. In 2018, 201 plates were issued.

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