PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island state officials on Monday unveiled the five finalists for the design of the state’s new standard license plate.
The plate would replace the iconic “Wave” license plate, but several of the designs also incorporated waves, paying homage to a design that has been on Rhode Island roadways for more than two decades.
“This is going to be a very positive thing for the state,” Governor Dan McKee said at a State House news conference unveiling the five finalists.
Voting opened online Monday and will run until March 28 at 11:59 p.m.
A team of Division of Motor Vehicles officials winnowed down a list of 940 entrants to pick the five finalists. There is no monetary reward associated with winning, but that didn’t stop Adam Salomon, a Smithfield resident and license plate collector, from entering his design, a sunset bathing the Newport Pell Bridge in orange-pinkish light. It also has echoes of the state’s “Discover Beautiful Rhode Island” welcome sign.
“I’m hopeful, and let’s just say I’m in good company here,” said Salomon, who has a background in graphic design. “A lot of the designs are deserving.”
The reaction on social media was, frankly, brutal, reminiscent of the battles of yesteryear over a Fun Sized or Cooler and Warmer.
“thanks i hate them,” one person wrote.
Salomon, though, noted that the purpose of a license plate is to display plate numbers in legible form. Some might call that bland. But it has to be functional for its main purpose, Salomon said.
Others clamored for the venerable “Wave” plate to stay. But keeping the same plate for so many years is a hazard, state officials said. The “Wave” plate should have gone away long ago. By re-doing the plate design, the state will be better able to figure out who’s driving without proper registration or insurance, because by the time the “Wave” plates cycle out, any “Wave” plates left on the road won’t be legit.
An estimated 3 percent to 4 percent of vehicles on the road right now are unregistered, according to Walter R. “Bud” Craddock, the state DMV administrator.
“That’s a loss of revenue to the state and municipalities, but also those vehicles are potentially unsafe and hazardous to the rest of the motoring public,” Craddock said.
The receding of the “Wave” plate will take two years. Rhode Islanders have to re-register their cars every two years, and when they renew, they’ll get mailed a copy of their new plate. They will be able to keep their old plates as keepsakes. The new plates, once they’re picked, should be on the roads in the coming months.
But drivers will have to pay an $8 surcharge on top of the normal renewal fees to help cover some, but not all, of the cost for the new plates. The state will have to pay $2.5 million even after the $8-per-plate cost. 3M is making the new plates.
Eight dollars is not a huge amount, but “to some people, that money means something,” said Jairson Ascencao, a Johnston resident who came to the State Room on Monday on a side-trip for other business that day — to talk to state officials about prison reform.
Ascencao is 22. The “Wave” plate is all Ascencao has ever known. He’s willing to be persuaded by the new design, but is unsure the “Wave” plate, with all its connotations, needs to go.
“We’re the Ocean State,” he said.
The move does not affect the various charity plates people can get, and the “Wave” plate will live on in green format for electric or hybrid vehicles.
Willem Van Lancker, 34, was one of the five finalists. He tried to hew to the original, while freshening it up: He brightened the blue-gray palette, redid the anchor, and added more waves. Five, to be exact. Each one could represent one of Rhode Island’s counties.
Van Lancker is from Providence County (Providence) and now lives in Washington County (South Kingstown). He loves Rhode Island. He wanted the “Wave” plate to live on, the same way Vermont’s green and Florida’s orange and green license plates live on.
“People really like the current plate,” Van Lancker said. “We kept it for 26 years for a reason. If we can evolve it to something new but keep the same traits about it would be quite nice.”
As for the reaction to the plates as a whole, Van Lancker said he understood it.
“I hope people come around,” he said. “But change is always tough.”
Brian Amaral can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.