Protect the Plate


Click here to learn how this critical source of funds for the Parkway and other state treasures was protected.

Read below to learn more about the issue.



Act now to preserve this critical source of funds for the ParkwayThanx Plate


One of the most popular motor vehicle initiatives of North Carolina state government is due for an abrupt and potentially damaging change in 2015.


The N.C. General Assembly in 2011 adopted legislation (HB 289), that included a provision that would mandate all specialty license plates conform to a standard design featuring The First in Flight background across the entire plate beginning in 2015. The adopted provision (sunset clause) would end full-color specialty plates in North Carolina. The stated intent of the ending of the practice of allowing full-color specialty plates was to increase readability of the plates for law enforcement officers and by toll-road cameras.

To address the question of safety and readability, a study was conducted for the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee, NC Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles, NC Department of Public Safety, and the State Highway Patrol. It concluded that the, “The Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety recommend that the State of North Carolina continue to issue full-color background special license plates in the new standardized format developed as required by S.L. 2011-392. The NC State Highway Patrol, the NC Sheriffs Association, and the Raleigh Police Department have expressed support for a standardized format such as the “white block” that serves as the background for the plate number and the standard font used for the state name.”


Since passage of HB 289, and incompliance with the study’s conclusions, nonprofit groups that raise important public purpose funds through the specialty plates – such as the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation – have agreed to the N.C. Department of Transportation recommended compromise specialty plate design (white box behind the numerals) that allows for the needed readability while also allowing for individualized specialty plates.

As per the study, because the white box satisfied the safety issues, at its April 2012 meeting, the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee approved draft legislation for the 2012 General Assembly to repeal the 2015 sunset clause in HB289.  HB 1035 passed in the House and SB 896 was not introduced in the Senate.


We ask for your help as ending the full-color specialty license plates will …

  • Remove an important source of revenue from the State of North Carolina for many travel and tourism investments across the state from Visitor Centers to tourism advertising.  
  • Hurt North Carolina’s tourism economy by ending about $1.5 million in annual investment in N.C. tourist attractions and natural resources, including our coast and beaches, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.
  • Eliminate important funding for N.C. Parks and other important charities and conservation efforts, such as Ducks Unlimited and coastal restoration.
  • Necessitate an expenditure of state funds to replace full-color plates for North Carolina drivers who have purchased them.

Ending the full color plate program is unnecessary because …

  • The recent redesign of all color plates EXCEEDS federal standards for visibility by law enforcement officers – and addresses ALL of NCDOT and the N.C. Highway Patrol’s concerns about full-color plates—as per the study.
  • Neither the NCDOT nor the N.C. Highway Patrol has requested an end to the full-color plate program.

We will continue to pursue the repeal of the sunset clause as the General Assembly starts its session in 2013. Stay informed about developments through our e-news and other social media.

  • More than 75,000 North Carolinians purchase full-color license plates annually (this represents less than 1% of all N.C. plates sold).
  • A full-color license plate in N.C. costs $20 to $30 - $10 of which is placed in a special state account to support visitor centers, tourism advertising, highway beautification and assistance for disabled travelers, among other projects.
  • Since 1999, N.C.’s full-color license plate program has provided more than $10 million to improve and promote N.C.’s natural resources and its tourism economy. 
  • In Western N.C., full-color plate revenues for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains alone have pumped more than $6 million into the promotion and improvements of these destinations – and helped attract countless visitors and their tourist dollars to the region.
  • A recent study indicates that in 2010, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway ranked first and fifth, respectively, among all national parks in the economic investment and jobs created in surrounding counties. According to the study:
    • 9 million visitors spent $818 million in the gateway communities around Great Smoky Mountains National Park and helped create more than 11,000 jobs.
    • 14.5 million visitors spent $299.8 million along the Blue Ridge Parkway and its surrounding communities, supporting more than 4,008 jobs in the area.

Details about the safety and readability of the newly designed specialty plates

  • The recent redesign of full-color plates EXCEEDS federal standards, which according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) is a 4:1 contrast for visibility by law enforcement officers (Olson and Sivak, 1983). The newly redesigned specialty plates that include the white box (and either black or blue alpha numerics) have a contrast at least six times the federally recommended standard. For example, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains Specialty Plates have a contrast of 21:1.
  • Eliminating full-color plates is NOT necessary for the efficient operation of toll roads. Toll cameras do not appear to have an issue reading specialty plates (even the full-color ones).  Barry Mickle, operations director for the N.C. Turnpike Authority recently stated, “What we've seen from our cameras is they are all reading [full-color plates] very well” (News and Observer, 2/21/12).
  • Full-color plates represent approximately 1 percent of North Carolina’s 6 million license plates currently registered. From a safety standpoint, any change in the law removing N.C. full color plates from the road will do nothing to impact the thousands of out-of-state drivers that travel through North Carolina with specialty plates from other states (and the revenue generated from those plates will not benefit N.C.).


Full-color specialty plates bring substantial monetary support to nonprofit groups that work to protect, enhance and promote North Carolina’s natural beauty and its tourism industry. Ending the full-color plates would damage these groups’ ability to pursue their missions, while also threatening the $750,000 raised annually by the plates that goes to support N.C. visitor centers and highway beautification projects. Newly redesigned full-color plates meet visibility requirements of law enforcement, and toll-camera operators.

For More information: We encourage your questions! Please contact us!

Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation                              
Carolyn Ward, Chief Executive Officer                                        

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