Michigan license plates: Retro plate growing in popularity, lawmaker proposes new 'next of kin' option

Maybe it's that deep blue color or that traffic light-yellow typeface - Michiganders like their new license plate. 

Over the past year, the state has issued more than half a million of its throwback option it started offering at the end of 2021.

The Water-Winter Wonderland plate, which features the same words underneath the plate's registration number, comes with a deep blue backdrop and pays homage to a plate style that was discontinued nearly 60 years ago.

But since being reissued, 659,077 drivers have opted for the license plate style. 

Those figures are still dwarfed by the traditional Pure Michigan count, which is at just over 4 million registered plates as of May 24. In total, there are 6.45 million standard plates registered to Michigan drivers, according to data provided by the Department of State. 

There are 1.12 million Mackinac Bridge plates and 652,850

The state has also issued 263,379 standard plates with a disability designation.

Despite being a newly-offered plate, the Water-Winter Wonderland option already makes up 10% of all standard plates that have been issued - a good indication of an appetite for nostalgia.

In addition to the standard plate options, there are several other specialty plates that pay homage to the military, with tributes to specific conflicts and accolades. And just this week, a new option was submitted to the legislature in the form of SB 0352.

Introduced on May 23, it would create a special plate for a next of kin family member that lost someone in the military who wasn't involved in active duty when they died.

"It's a glaring error that we recognize our fallen members in the line of duty when they're actively serving, but nothing for those family members who died serving the country in the same way but weren't actively engaged in peacekeeping," said state Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway Township), the bill's primary sponsor.

The license plate fills a hole that enables some families to honor their loved ones who may not have had an option to before. That includes military people who may have died in a training exercise.

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The idea was brought to Lauwers by a constituent, though the lawmaker admits he's the "last guy you'd think of as someone who would propose a new plate."

"It's never an easy thing suggesting a new license plate. There's always natural pushback against that with the number of people asking ‘how many do we need’ so I'm pretty reluctant to do something like this," he said. "But in this case, it seems obvious we should have one."

According to the department of state's website, there are 30 different military license plate options, from Marine Corps veterans and Laso Conflict veterans, to being an ex-prisoner of war or a member of a Blue Star or Gold Star family. 

The bill was referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.