Nebraska will be “celebrating” a little-recognized centennial next year. I use quotation marks because I don’t think there will be a true celebration. But still, in 2022, it will have been 100 years since the numeric system of designating counties on license plates was created.
When the system was created, numbers were assigned to the 93 counties based on vehicle registrations in each county at the time: The greater the number of vehicle registrations in a county, the smaller the number assigned to it. Thus, Douglas County, which includes Omaha, was assigned number 1; Hooker County was assigned number 93.
Currently, the license plates of Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy counties — the three largest counties in terms of both vehicle registrations and population — don’t contain a numeric identifier at all. However, the license plates of all of the other counties still retain the numbers assigned to them back in 1922.
How many of those numbers are still accurate in terms of vehicle registrations in those counties today? This was the topic of supper conversation recently, and I decided to do a little research to find out.
I know, I know, you think it would be more interesting to discuss the configurations of broccoli florets, right? But, really, the stats are interesting — read on to see.
What I found out — based on county vehicle registration statistics on the Nebraska DMV site — is that if numbers were assigned to counties based on vehicle registrations in those counties today, only five counties would have the same numbers that were assigned to them in 1922: Douglas, Lancaster, Saline, Wheeler and Thomas.
Another 17 counties would have numbers within one or two spots of their current numbers, including Madison and the nearby counties of Stanton, Platte, Rock and Keya Paha.
Several counties would move up the ranks more than 20 spots due to their large numbers of registered vehicles today. Most significantly, Sarpy County, which was originally assigned number 59, would be number 3 if its license plates actually bore a number.
Dakota County vehicles would sport license plates with the number 18 instead of 70; Box Butte County, 24 instead of 65; Keith County, 28 instead of 68; Cherry County, 44 instead of 66; Dawes County, 47 instead of 69; and Red Willow County, 27 instead of 48.
And several counties would move down the ranks more than 20 spots: Boone County would go from a license plate with number 23 to a license plate with number 46; Richardson County, 19 to 41; Cedar County, 13 to 34; and Knox County, 12 to 33. Although Gage County and Custer County would not fall quite as far, they would lose their number 3 and 4 status, respectively, and fall to 15 and 21, respectively.
Fascinating fact: Only Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties each have a population larger than the number of vehicle registrations in the county. In contrast, in all other counties, vehicle registration numbers exceed the county population numbers.
In fact, more than half of the counties have close to or more than twice as many vehicle registrations as the total number of people in the county — and McPherson and Loup counties have more than three times as many vehicle registrations as residents!
The license plate county numbers no longer accurately reflect what they were originally established to reflect, but I’m certainly not advocating for a change.
It would be impractical to adjust those numbers every time vehicle registration numbers fluctuated. Most importantly, Nebraskans are accustomed to the current number designations — so they are a useful way to identify “neighbors” when traveling.
Readers may contact Sybrant at firstname.lastname@example.org or 45092 859th Road, Bassett, NE 68714.