Debates Over New License Plate Design Continue


Illustration by Mia R. ’26

Chances are, you probably know and love the current license plate design of Hawai‘i. Since 1991, the design of these iconic license plates has included three numbers followed by three letters for passenger vehicles. Behind these letters and numbers, there is a design of a rainbow. Additionally, the top of the license plate reads “Hawaii” while the bottom includes the state nickname and reads “Aloha State.” Despite this, the iconic design is nearing retirement as the number of available combinations of three letters and three numbers is running out. According to Honolulu’s Department of Customer Services, there is an early effort to select a new license plate design, but no design has officially been chosen yet. 

The new design legally must include “Hawaii” at the top and “Aloha State” at the bottom, as seen in the current one. The color numbers and letters must also be distinctly different from the color of the background, preventing interference with the readability of the license plate.  

In addition to this, a bill is being pushed in the legislature for the inclusion of the ‘okina in the spelling of “Hawaii” on the new design as it is spelled in Hawaiian. Currently, “Hawai‘i” is spelled without the ‘okina as it is against the state’s laws to include it on license plates. Many people see this possible change as a way to embrace and raise awareness of the Hawaiian language, which is one of the state’s official languages. Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a Hawaiian Community Leader, said to local news outlet Khon 2: “I believe that culturally, anything that would increase people’s awareness and people’s consciousness about the right language, I think, it’s a good thing to support.”

Despite this, there is not a huge rush to change the design of the license plate. There will be no design changes and the current rainbow license plate design will continue to be issued at least until 2024. It is also possible that the amount or order in which the letters and numbers appear will be altered, significantly increasing the amount of available combinations. This would eliminate the need for a new design, allowing for the continuation of the rainbow license plate. This idea of changing the letter-number arrangement has also gained support. A Honolulu Star Advertiser reader by the username of “Oldnewguy” commented on an article talking about the change of the design, writing “HPD currently has license plates with 3 letters followed by 4 digits. They’ve had this for years. This could easily be extended to the rest of new license plates after the 3-letter 3-digit combinations are used up.” 

There are mixed opinions on what the next design for the license plate should be. There are also people who want the new license plate to feature King Kamehameha, which was done in past license plate designs. When asked about her feelings about this, Sky O. ’27 remarked “If there’s another license plate, there should be details that exhibit our qualities of Aloha and Hawai‘i.”