New seven-character passenger vehicle license plates have been shipped

December 31, 2009
New seven-character license plate format

This is the new license plate format for cars and SUVs.

By Brad Benfield

Passenger vehicle owners in Whitman, Whatcom, Asotin, Benton, Franklin, and Kitsap Counties will be the first to receive the new seven-character passenger vehicle license plates officially announced last October. These plates are issued for use on cars and sport-utility vehicles.

The new plates will have three letters followed by four numbers (AAA1111). This new configuration will yield about 138 million possible combinations. The general appearance of these new license plates won’t change—the colors will be the same and they will still feature the standard mountain background currently in use.

The first plates manufactured, with numbers AAA0000 through AAA0599, were shipped to Whitman County and will soon be distributed to local vehicle licensing offices. These offices will begin issuing them after they run out of the current six-character license plates they have in their inventories. This process will be used in all counties.

Like Washington’s other license plates, this new series is produced by prison inmates through the Correctional Industries program at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. They are shipped directly from the production facility to counties across our state.


REAL ID deadline extended

December 23, 2009

By Brad Benfield

In order to ensure that the millions of Americans traveling this holiday season are not disrupted, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced on December 18 that all valid, state-issued driver licenses and identification cards will continue to be acceptable for federal purposes beyond the December 31, 2009, deadline for material compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Secretary Napolitano cited “significant cost, legal considerations, and privacy concerns” as reasons DHS decided to extend the deadline until May 10, 2011.

For more details, see the Department of Homeland Security press release.


DOL history file — 1905

December 17, 2009
Vehicles on Pike Street in Seattle in 1902, prior to state vehicle licensing requirements.

Vehicles on Pike Street in Seattle in 1902, prior to state vehicle licensing requirements. Photo courtesy of Washington State Digital Archives.

By Brad Benfield

The Washington State Legislature established the Motor Vehicle License Division under the Office of the Secretary of State in 1905. This new division was responsible for registering and issuing vehicle license numbers to the state’s growing number of personal vehicles. 

The division issued license numbers—not license plates. The vehicle owner was responsible for creating their own license plate out of wood or leather. The license number also could be painted directly on the front and rear of the vehicle.

At this time the licensing fee for a vehicle was $2, and all vehicle licenses expired on the same day—May 31st. If a vehicle owner failed to renew their registration before June 1, their license number would be assigned to someone else and they would have to make a new set of plates or repaint them on their vehicle. 

A total of 763 licenses were issued in 1905. The first of these was issued to S. A. Perkins of Tacoma on May 2nd, for a 30 horsepower Pope-Toledo touring car.


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