A Response to Criticisms of the 1971 Virginia Study of Reflectorized License Plates

Report No: 76-R40

Published in 1976

About the report:

A number of states use reflectorized license plates as a safety countermeasure for the reduction of nighttime rear-end collisions. In 1970 the issue of whether to adopt the use of these plates was presented to the Virginia General Assembly for consideration. In an effort to resolve questions concerning the benefits of reflective plates a study was authorized to be carried out in Virginia. This study was a cooperative effort of four state agencies. The Division of Motor Vehicles had the responsibility for determining the cost of implementing a reflectorization program and the Department of State Police conducted the original analysis of rear-end accident data. The Highway Safety Division's part of the study was the design of the license plate distribution plan to be used for the study and the comparative analysis of the legibility and visibility of reflectorized and enamel license plates. The Highway and Transportation Research Council performed the phases of the study that were the responsibility of the Safety Division.

A report consolidating the findings of the three phases of the study (costs, accident reduction, and legibility/visibility tests) was made to the Governor and General Assembly in January 1972. The recommendation of the three-man committee heading up the study teams was that Virginia not "require the use of reflectorized license plates until such time as they have been proven beneficial to highway safety." Subsequent to the above recommendation, the Research Council was asked to undertake an analysis of the accident data which had been collected. This analysis was carried out and the results, which substantiated the original State Police findings, were published in January 1974. In summary, the analysis revealed no evidence that a difference existed in the number of rear-end and parked nighttime collisions of vehicles equipped with the reflectorized plates when compared with vehicles equipped with control non-reflective license plates.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


Other Authors

Charles B. Stoke

Last updated: January 29, 2024

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