- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration officials say they have distributed every alphanumeric combination on passenger-vehicle license plates and must change the sequence of letters and numbers to create more alternatives.

Instead of the three-letter, three-number sequence, state license plates now are being made with a combination of one letter followed by three numbers and two more letters. So instead of ABC 123, expect to see 1AB C23.

The change hasn’t ruffled many feathers.

“To my knowledge, no one has complained,” said agency spokesman Buel C. Young.

Mr. Young said the last of the plates using the three-letter, three-number sequence were distributed to branch offices last fall, though not all of them have been issued.

He said the sequence change has been looming since 1986, when state officials ended a policy of issuing new plates every six years. Because the agency won’t issue the same tag number twice, all the combinations eventually would be distributed.

Mr. Young said that because the sequence was up to the letter “N” in 1986 when the policy was changed, the last plate in the series would be MZZ 999. He said the old series and the new series each have about 9.5 million combinations.

More combinations are statistically possible, but MVA does not use certain letters — such as I, O, Q and U — because law-enforcement authorities say they could be confused easily with other characters. Mr. Young said letter combinations that spell certain recognizable words — a few of them unprintable — also are omitted.

Virginia has faced a similar problem. In 1992, the state adopted a seventh character for its license plates, exponentially increasing the number of combinations, said Marcia Meredith, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Mr. Young said that adding an additional character to Maryland’s standard license plate would have called for a redesign because the state seal divides the three-character combinations on each side.

D.C. plates formerly used two sets of three numbers. In 1999, the sequence was changed, and the plates were redesigned with two letters and four numbers.

Janis Hazel, a spokeswoman with the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, said the existing alphanumeric combination offers 2,299,770 license plates. About 530,000 have been issued to date.

Ms. Hazel said D.C. officials already have planned what to do when the combinations are exhausted.

“The sequence would be changed to a different alphanumeric combination,” she said. “We would not reissue a previously issued license-plate number.”

The words “Taxation Without Representation” were added to D.C. plates in 2000, but the change did not require officials to restart the sequence.

About 20,000 license plates, beginning with BB and BJ, are reserved for persons who do not want the slogan and instead opt to get the District’s Web address on their plates. The BB series, which features embossed numbers, usually is seen on federally owned vehicles that do not have federal government plates.

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