What to know about Washington state’s license plate shortage


Washington state is rolling out new equipment to alleviate a shortage of license plates affecting some counties.

The state's Department of Corrections, which creates the plates using the labor of incarcerated people, has struggled to keep up with demand since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The aluminum supply chain was disrupted, and that has "taken DOC, as well as nearly every industry nationwide, several years to recover from," said Tobby Hatley, a department spokesperson.

The department's aging plate machinery has also struggled, according to state officials.

Two new plate-printing machines were installed for $2.8 million and have been running since May 17 at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

DOC expects plate reserves will return to normal by mid-July.

"We are confident that with state-of-the-art equipment and a new facility, DOC will be able to meet demand and avoid license plate shortfalls for the foreseeable future," Hatley said.

The Department of Licensing says 10 counties were running low on plates: Clallam, Clark, Franklin, King, Lewis, Pierce, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom and Whitman.

Cameron Satterfield, spokesperson for King County Records and Licensing Services, said that as of May 15, there was no inventory of plates for trucks, and the availability of plates for passenger vehicles was low.

The county also supplies plate inventory to 19 privately operated license offices, which "have also been impacted to varying degrees," Satterfield said.

The Department of Licensing issued 1.4 million license plates in 2023, compared with 1.6 million in 2019. Last year marked the lowest number of plates issued since 2019.

The plate shortage has forced King County to issue temporary plates more often, but it does not affect vehicle registration, Satterfield said.

The new printer machinery and facilities also includes computer systems and programs, dies, character plates, carts and more.

Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall said the county experienced a shortage of metal plates from the end of April until May 14. On that day, they received metal plates for the next two months.

Hall said the county did not know how long the shortage would last, which prompted them to issue a community alert a week before they received the new stock of plates.

While the shortage persisted, Thurston County issued temporary plates valid for 60 days. These plates were made of durable and weatherproof materials.

An official from the Snohomish County Auditor's Office said the county has enough plates for passenger vehicles and, while they have a lower than typical inventory of truck and trailer plates, they have not run out yet.


     (c)2024 The Seattle Times

     Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com

     Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.