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With a new governor, will R.I. get new license plates?

Senator Louis DiPalma says it’s time to move on from the “Wave” plates issued in 1997

Proposed redesign of Rhode Island license plates.Courtesy of Luminous Creative Agency

PROVIDENCE — Republican governor Donald Carcieri didn’t do it. Independent governor Lincoln Chafee didn’t do it. And Democratic governor Gina Raimondo didn’t do it.

But state Senator Louis P. DiPalma is confident that Governor Daniel J. McKee will do what his predecessors have refused to do: redesign Rhode Island’s license plates.

A section of state law requires that new license plates be issued “no less than every 10 years,” he noted, and though new plates should have been released in 2007, Rhode Island has not issued new plates since 1997, when the current “Wave” design made its bumper debut.

“In the last 13 years, we have had three governors kick the can down the road,” said DiPalma, who is one of the five finalists to succeed McKee as lieutenant governor. “But I’m confident Governor McKee will execute on this.”


DiPalma said he has not discussed the issue of new license plates recently because he said he realizes the pandemic is the priority. But, “It is the law, it has been the law. This should have happened 13 years ago, and not for nothing, I’ve been working on this for eight years.”

The current "Wave" design of Rhode Island license plates.Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles

Motorists would pay $8 for two new plates that would last 10 years, DiPalma said. The new plates would only be required for motorists who have Wave plates and not charity plates such as those that raise money for the Red Sox Foundation or the Plum Island Lighthouse, he said.

DiPalma ticked off four reasons for issuing new license plates:

  • Public safety: Over the years, the reflectivity of license plates declines. It’s important for law enforcement, rescue personnel, and civilian eye witnesses to be able to read license plates, and reflective plates increase safety when cars are stalled on the side of the road or out at night, he said.
  • Security: An estimated 3 percent of all vehicles on the road have license plates that aren’t registered or are registered for another vehicle. New plates would force thousands of cars to be properly inspected and insured.
  • Revenue: The state is losing out on the vehicle registration fees, vehicle inspection fees, and insurance premium tax for unregistered vehicles, and cities and towns are losing out on car tax revenue, he said. He estimates the state is losing out on $4.3 million to $6.1 million in unpaid fees.
  • Pride and promotion: Graphics and state slogans on license plates provide opportunities for states to promote themselves and foster pride, he said.

DiPalma said that as long as a new design is substantially different than the Wave plate, it would allow authorities to quickly distinguish old plates from new ones. The state could meet that criteria by simply returning to the plain blue-and-white plate used years ago, he said, but he could envision holding a design competition and allowing the public to vote on five or so finalists.


He said a Providence advertising company, Luminous Creative Agency, volunteered to design some possible options, including dark blue plates with golden anchors and one featuring an image of the Independent Man statue that stands atop the State House.

A proposed redesign of Rhode Island's license plates.Courtesy of Luminous Creative Agency

DiPalma said the state might also want to think about the “independent woman” design that was once considered for the statue on the State House.

Ryan Buttie, cofounder of Luminous Creative Agency, said he’s a lifelong Rhode Islander who liked the Wave license plate when it first came out but now finds it boring. “It’s nice if you want a license plate that doesn’t stick out,” he said. “It needs a refresh so it doesn’t look so stagnant.”

Buttie said a new license plate would help promote Rhode Island. “People drive through the state a lot – it’s a small state,” he said, noting that it’s also a form of branding. “Like a lot of brands, it gets old.”

Another proposed redesign of the Rhode Island license plate.Courtesy of Luminous Creative Agency

Walter R. “Bud” Craddock, administrator of the state Division of Motor Vehicles, agreed that a well-designed plate can help promote the state. “There are a lot of great looking plates for other states, and we could be advertising the state on every license plate with a good design,” he said.

Craddock also agreed that a design competition with public involvement could help generate interest in the new plate. “It would give people ownership that they had some say in what state is doing,” he said.


Craddock, a former Cranston police chief who spent 26 years in law enforcement, said that identifying unregistered vehicles is more difficult if new plates look similar to the old ones. “You are not going to notice if the anchor is moved to one corner, or if it’s five waves instead of three waves,” he said.

Some designs submitted under the Raimondo administration were variations on the Wave design, but Raimondo’s office never gave final approval for a new plate design, Craddock said. So, he said, “This will be up to Governor McKee.”

Andrea Palagi, spokeswoman for McKee, said the governor’s top priority is COVID-19 and the state’s vaccine rollout, but noted that McKee included the issue in his budget unveiled March 11, where he proposed “delaying mandatory reissuance of license plates for one year to July 1, 2022.”

DiPalma, a Middletown Democrat, said it was encouraging that McKee included the license plate reissuance in his proposed budget, and he said the one-year wait will give the state time to adopt a new design.

“The Wave has served us well,” he said. “It’s time to move on.”

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.