Everything you need to know about the New York license plate: NYCurious

New York's new license plate will feature Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, the New York City skyline and a lighthouse. 
New York’s new license plate will feature Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, the New York City skyline and a lighthouse.  Photo Credit: Brookfield Place

This is part of our NYCurious series, where we answer your burning questions about the city. Ask yours here.

The New York license plate will soon have a new look.

Residents chose among five designs in an online poll released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, with the winner announced on Sept. 6. But the plan to phase out older plates in favor of the winning design has come under scrutiny.

Scroll down for more on the new license plates. 

Which new design won?

About 325,000 votes were cast in the poll for the new license plate. The winning design, which features Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, the New York City skyline and a lighthouse, received nearly 50% of the vote, the state Department of Motor Vehicles said. The new blue, yellow and white plate also will say “Excelsior,” the state motto, instead of “Empire State,” as the current plate does.

What is the current New York license plate?

Since April 1, 2010, the state DMV has issued the “Empire Gold” license plate, which has navy plate numbers and says “Empire State.” Before that plate, in 2001, the state issued the “Empire Blue and White” plate, which many New Yorkers still have, which features the Niagara Falls and the New York City skyline.

Before those recognizable plates, there was one issued in 1986 with a Statue of Liberty on it, but that was the first time the plates had a symbol on them. Earlier versions, many of which were yellow, just had the number and “New York” or “NY.”

When will we see the new plates?

The new design will be rolled out in April 2020. 

How will replacements work?

Cuomo’s initial plan would have required plates that are 10 or more years old to be replaced with new versions when motorists renew their vehicle registration after April 1, 2020. The state estimates that more than 3 million vehicles have plates that are at least 10 years old. 

However, the administration backed off the proposal on Tuesday after significant blowback from politicians and the public, including a Siena Research Institute poll that found nearly 60% of respondents opposed the replacement mandate. 

“This proposal isn’t going forward as we have committed to working with the Legislature to create a plan that ensures plates are readable by law enforcement and cashless tolling systems and creates a process where plates older than 10 years are inspected and, if still readable, can be kept,” Cuomo aide Rich Azzopardi said Tuesday.

Why does the state want to replace old license plates?

Plates that are at least 10 years old are often “damaged, oxidized and peeling, making it difficult or impossible to read the license plate number,” the governor’s office said when it announced the poll for the new design. 

Illegible license plates hinder speeding and red-light cameras and the cashless tolling systems at bridges and tunnels that take images of license plates on vehicles that don’t have an EZPass. 

How much will the plates cost?

It costs $25 to get new plates, and there’s an additional $20 fee to keep the same number. The fee on the new plates had been expected to generate at least $75 million for the state under the scrapped 10-year replacement mandate.

A state law passed in 2009 says license plate fees cannot exceed $25. 

Where are license plates made?

New York’s license plates are made by inmates in the Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

What to do with old plates

New Yorkers should recycle old license plates, the DMV says, but first, use a permanent marker to cross out the plate number.

With Newsday