Blackout plates, popular in other states, may be headed for Minnesota

Published 5:31 pm Monday, January 30, 2023

By Brian Bakst, Minnesota Public Radio News

Minnesota could soon add a new specialty license plate that officials believe will quickly become a popular option.

Gov. Tim Walz is recommending authorization of what are known as blackout plates — license plates with a dark or black background and white lettering.

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The Minnesota agency that issues plates said in budget documents that fees connected to the new plates would bring in as much as $4.8 million per year, which could be used to improve general vehicle services operations. The plates would require legislative approval. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety points to the quick uptake in other states.

Colorado, Iowa and Mississippi are among the states with blackout plates, and they’re a popular choice for drivers there. Iowa issued nearly a half-million of them in the first three years they were available.

In Iowa, the transportation department said feedback it got from vehicle owners was that the simplicity of the plates made them a hot item. The Des Moines Register reported that they were created after drivers began making ad hoc versions to customize a specialized university plate; law enforcement made some traffic stops after growing concerned about the coverings and some motorists turned to lawmakers for help.

Minnesota officials expect demand of 120,000 to 160,000 per year in the first few years. That would make the blackout plates the most popular specialty option after collector plates and the suite of critical habitat plates.

Minnesota issues more than 1.3 million plates annually, with more than 100 different variations for vehicles, mopeds and motorcycles.

The blackout plates would come with a $30 annual payment in addition to standard fees. The creation of plate designs wouldn’t begin until after legislation is passed, so it could be some time before they’re spotted on the road.