The road to reflective: The story of New Jersey’s 1992 reflective plates – Part 1

1970 New Jersey Passenger License plate
1970 New Jersey Passenger License plate

New Jersey’s first attempt with license plates that used reflective sheeting was in 1969 . It took until the 1990s with the introduction of the new 1992 passenger plate for New Jersey to return to using reflective sheeting. The story is a bit more involved than you would think.

On December 8, 1989 Governor Thomas Kane signed into law a bill that would take New Jersey on the path to a new reflective license plate. The law, P.L.1989, c.202, created the Reflectorized License Plate Selection Commission to create a new license plate for the Garden State.

The law stated:
The commission shall consist of five members, three appointed by the Governor, one by the President of the Senate, and one by the Speaker of the General Assembly. The commission shall select the color scheme and design of the new reflectorized license plate after considering the needs of law enforcement and highway safety, aesthetics, cost and the continued ability of the corrections system to manufacture the plate. The commission will first meet within 60 days of the effective date of this act and shall report its choice to the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles within 180 days of this act becoming effective. The markings on the plates shall be in accordance with specifications prescribed by the director.

The initial members of the commission who were Senator Frank X. Graves, Jr. (appointed by Senate President John Russo), Assemblyman Robert E. Littell (appointed by Assembly Speaker Chuck Hardwick), and State Police Superintendent Colonel Clinton L. Pagano, Sr. (appointed by Governor Kean). At the commission’s organizational meeting on February 5, 1990 Graves was selected as chairman and Littell as vice-chairman. Grave’s tenure was cut shout by his death on March 4th and he was replaced by Senator Francis J. McManimon.

On April 26, 1990 the committee members were finalized. First, State Police Colonel Pagano resigned and became an adviser. The new Governor, James Florio, appointed Steven Adams, a creative director at an advertising agency; Janice Conklin, a free-lance graphic artist; and the President of the New Jersey Automobile Dealers Association, Charles Walton, to the commission.

At the April 9th meeting, the commission made sure the Auto Tag Shop at Bayside Prison in Cumberland County could handle the job and the costs involved. They also looked into the two common methods of reflectorization in use at the time – glass beads on paint (then used by 7 states) and reflective sheeting (then used by 42 states). The commission determined that reflective sheeting would be the best option.

It was also at this meeting the graphic design of the plates was first brought up. The committee inspected several sample plates to come up with a license plate that met the needs of both safety and law enforcement. A white background was determined to have the best reflective qualities, however it was used by so many other jurisdictions it would not be distinctive enough. The second choice was a yellow background.

From the August 2, 1990 report of the commission:
The members studied these first samples and discussed the features of each, such as the placement and graphic style of the words “New Jersey” and “Garden State,” the size and shape of the alphanumeric sequence, and the placement of a small square, either outlined or “debossed,” in the left hand corner of the plate to mark the place where in the future a registration sticker may be placed. The commission recommends that the Division of Motor Vehicles implement the use of registration plate inserts. These inserts should be attached to the registration plate to indicate that the vehicle possesses a valid registration certificate and to assist in ensuring compliance with compulsory motor vehicle insurance requirements.

So if you ever wondered why there were sticker boxes on the passenger plates that took years to get used, there is you answer.

Continued in Part 2