ANNAPOLIS – Maryland drivers have almost 300 ways to tell others about their interests without ever saying a word.
License plates sporting the names of fraternal organizations, colleges or civic associations are growing in popularity, said Jim Lang, a spokesman for the Motor Vehicle Administration.
Want to show your support of organized labor? Subtly boast of your high I.Q.? Tell others about your happy marriage? Preserve wetlands?
United Auto Workers, Mensa (the superior intelligence society), Marriage Encounter and Ducks Unlimited are among the 295 organizations that participate.
Since organizational plates debuted in 1984, demand has increased steadily, Lang said.
Every week, the MVA processes five to 10 requests for new designs from groups wanting plates of their own. And this year, more than 70 thousand automobiles registered in Maryland have organizational license plates.
Vehicle owners pay a one-time fee of $12 if their organization has only its name written under specially-assigned numbers and letters. They pay $15 if a logo — usually the organization’s seal or emblem — appears to the left of the numbers and letters.
The fees don’t bring the MVA extra income; they cover only the plates’ cost. The MVA does the plates to please customers, Lang said.
“We’re bowing to the wishes of residents affiliated with a group they wanted to acknowledge broadly,” he said.
Different groups cite different benefits from team tags.
Some drivers said they are more likely to stop and help if they see their organization’s plates on a disabled vehicle. Conversely, they might expect help from one of their own if they display the plates.
Howard Heneson of the service fraternity Yedz Grotto, said his organization’s members see the plates as an “introduction they know they can depend on.
“As a group we’re conscious of our responsibility to help others in need. When we can identify people we know or should know, an extra effort is made,” Heneson said.
Others say the advertising raises their group’s profile.
James Oakley, a member of the Royal GTOs — the Maryland chapter of the national organization that prizes the Pontiac cars, said his group got the plates in the late 1980s because they thought it was a “neat idea.”
“What better way to organize a car club than a tag and what better way than to get a GTO tag for a GTO?” Oakley asked.
Some groups, like Ducks Unlimited, also get a financial boost from piggybacking on the fee charged by the MVA.
Ducks Unlimited, which seeks to preserve wetlands for waterfowl, requires members to pay $50 for each set of plates bearing the blue, teal and gold logo with a duck’s head. That’s $15 for the MVA and $35 to the organization.
“More bucks for the ducks,” Peck, a veterinarian, said.
Some organizations say they encourage as many members as possible to get special plates.
But Marriage Encounter, a group that seeks to improve marriages through weekend retreats, doesn’t push members to get plates.
The group wants only couples serious about their marriages to make the extra effort to obtain the plates with the heart, cross and two wedding rings. Divorce among plate holders would amount to negative advertising for Marriage Encounter, said plate contact person, Mike Irvine.
Does having so many different plates make reading and tracing them difficult? Not at all, said state police spokeswoman, Sgt. Laura Lu Herman. “The letters are plain and clear and easy to read when we make a license plate check,” Herman said. -30-