License Plates: How Many Will You See In 2017?

It may seem a bit odd to publish a post about license plates on January 1 (BTW, happy new year!), but stick with me for a bit. Someday in the distant future when recalling events of the past, my kids may find an occasion to share with their kids or grandkids a funny story about the cars that people used to drive on things called freeways. Perhaps one of the stories will be how their mother had created a license plate game for herself and I want to make sure that they get it right as well as share innovation of mine with you. As to why it’s the subject of a new year’s day post, that’s because this is one of the ‘fresh starts’ I make each year. Let me explain.

You may or may not know that I have a day job other than blogging and that I drive to work (like a lot of other people). My commute can range from 45 to 90 minutes each way depending on the time of day, the time of the year, and/or the state of freeway improvement construction.  That’s a lot of time spent looking at the backend of cars and their license plates.  Remember the Out-of-State Plate Game where you slug the person next to you as you yell out the name of the state?   Back when my kids were learning the state capitals, I made it a requirement that they had to able to identify the capital when calling out the state before they gently nudged their sibling.

Several years ago, it seemed to me that the number of out-of-state license plates I was seeing as I drove to and from work was increasing.  This was during the time when the economy was a bit unstable and I suppose the growing numbers of out-of-state plates was evidence of people relocating and looking for jobs in the Los Angeles area.  In my day job, I analyze and predict population trends. Over time, populations change due to increases or decreases in births, deaths, and/or because people move around. From a professional standpoint, I became a bit fascinated by the numbers and varieties of these out-of-state plates, wondering why the drivers of these vehicles were in my area and what had brought them here.

The longer my ‘inner stat nerd’ pondered on it, the more she began to wonder how long it would take, considering the freeway commuting and other daily travels, to see a license plate from each state.  And so a new version of the License Plates Game was created and until now, I’ve been its only player.  Would you like to know more about this game and play it yourself?  Then read on.

How To Play The New License Plates Game

To play this version of the game you need a list of the states which I am providing for you here.  It would be best to keep this list and a pen with you or at least in your car so that you can record sightings in a timely fashion (and not forget). Included on this list are the providences and territories in Canada as well as the states in Mexico because, in my area I see a lot of cars with plates from over the borders as well (one year I even saw a car with plates from Puerto Rico).  

Typically, I start the game on January 1 and it ends when I’ve crossed off the last U.S. state or on December 31, whichever comes first. That’s my preference but you can choose your own timeframe. When I see a car with an out-of-state plate, I mark it off on the list by drawing a line through the state’s name and adding a note as to the month and day it was seen.  For me, only passenger vehicles and pickup trucks qualify in this game and I ignore the plates on semi-trucks or self-moving rental vehicles.

Below is my tracking record for 2016. I’ve kept a few of the records from previous years and some day I might do some sort of statistical comparison if ever give free reign to my inner stat nerd. One of my “rules” for the game is that I only play it while in California. I suspended play during the two east coast trips that The Husband and I took last year. However, while traveling around in the New England area last Fall, I did take notice that we saw no vehicles with a California license plate.

Which state do you think is the most elusive in the Los Angeles area? 2010 was the first year that I kept track of my sightings and the one state that I never saw was Delaware. In fact, I was so bummed about not seeing a Delaware plate that I didn’t consider the game over until the following December when I finally saw one. I was so thrilled that I took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook since most of my family and friends knew about this new obsession of mine.

You might think that Hawaii would be a rarity but oddly, it’s not. In fact, last year the first sighting of a car with a Hawaiian license plate was on January 2, as evidenced by my tracking recordings for 2016.  Up until a few weeks ago, there had been two elusive states for last year but I did have a Rhode Island sighting (I just neglected to cross it off) so the only remainder for 2016 was New Hampshire. In most years, I do catch all 51 (can’t forget about Washington D.C.) before the end of the year so I’m usually quite excited to start the game over on January 1. Even if I don’t get all of them, I still start over.

So, there you have it. Is this version of the License Plates game going to take the internet by storm or is it just the quirky idea of a long-suffering freeway commuter looking for a bit of diversion during her drive to and from work? More importantly, are you interested in playing it too?

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6 thoughts on “License Plates: How Many Will You See In 2017?”

  1. Excellent way to spend your commuting time! I drove to work in L.A. years ago about the same length commute every day. Now that I live in a rural area with no traffic, I find the whole rubber necking behavior in L.A. fascinating.

    1. Julie, you’re so very lucky to be away from L.A. freeways. The traffic just seems to get worse and worse. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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