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Gephardt: Conflicting laws jam plans for black Utah license plates

By Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV | Posted - Mar. 26, 2021 at 11:40 a.m.

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DRAPER – Here in Utah, we have several license plate options, including the skier, Delicate Arch, American flag, and a whole slew of special plates that come with a special fee.

Some would like a more classic look, including Marc Briggs of Draper, who thinks Utah's old black license plates would look sleek on his ride.

"It's, you know, attractive on a vehicle," he said.

It not just an exercise in vanity — in fact, there is a 3-year-old law that orders the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles to design a license plate with "a black background," "white characters," and, "the word 'Utah.'"

People who opt for the plate would make an annual donation to the Utah Historical Society.

When Briggs asked DMV officials for such a plate, they told him it won't be happening.

"This is what is supposed to happen," Briggs said. "To just make the choice to not follow the law that has been passed doesn't seem right."

Black plates aren't a novelty. There are at least 14 states that have a black plate option. Why is Utah's DMV refusing to produce one — in violation of Utah law?

The KSL Investigators took that question to DMV Division Director Monte Roberts.

He said Utah has two conflicting statutes — one law says he's supposed to create a black license plate, and another says license plates must be reflective.

"The black plate just doesn't reflect," Roberts said. "Regardless of how we tested it, it does not provide the effective reflective brightness."

The black plate just doesn't reflect. Regardless of how we tested it, it does not provide the effective reflective brightness.

–Monte Roberts, DMV Division director

That reflective brightness is especially important these days, Roberts said. Not only do police departments have special cameras that struggle to read black plates, but the state is also considering putting in toll roads that might use similar technology.

"We have to administer what the law asks us to do," Roberts said. "It does put me, puts our division, in a difficult position to be able to, you know, 'Do you want me to adhere to all the statutes?' you know, kind of a thing."

Roberts said the bottom line is that black plates are something that he cannot administer.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, sponsored the black plate bill and said he's been working with the DMV to try and come up with a solution.

"We're actively looking at it," he said.

McCay said the solution is around the corner — be it better plate-reading cameras or maybe even microchipping license plates — and he is hopeful Utah will have black plates on the roads in a few years.


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Matt Gephardt
Sloan Schrage


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