SEBRING — As fall hits Florida and the license plates change colors, it also seems full-time Floridians opt for a change of color of their own.
In Highlands County, specialty plates grace 5,353 cars and trucks, and most of them commemorate agriculture, one of two rival universities, or a branch of military service.
Statewide, as of September 2018, more than 10 percent of the 15.4 million auto and pickup tags sold in Florida were specialty tags — 1.58 million. They commemorate certain groups or causes and raise money for related organizations with an added annual fee.
Highlands County has 68,727 cars and trucks registered on the road. The 5,353 with specialty tags make up about 7.8 percent.
Of those, the most popular is “Agriculture,” with a $20 annual fee that funds and promotes the Florida Agriculture in the Classroom program within Florida Agriculture in the Classroom Inc. As of September 2018, 540 Highlands County vehicles carried that tag.
After agriculture, 491 Highlands drivers buy the University of Florida “Gator Nation” tag, with a $25 fee to pay for academic enhancement at the Gainesville school.
Florida State University comes in well behind University of Florida. The FSU tag, also with a $25 fee for academic enhancement, rolls on 270 cars in the county, at last count.
Right behind the Seminoles, however, are the Marines. A commemorative tag for the U.S. Marine Corps has sold to as many vehicles as Florida State. At last count, 266 local drivers have that tag.
When added together, however, all branches of the military service outnumber all other local tags, with a total of 684.
• U.S. Marine Corps — 266.
• U.S. Army — 172.
• U.S. Air Force — 121.
• U.S. Navy — 98.
• U.S. Coast Guard — 27.
The University of Miami is the only other local tag with drivers in the triple digits. In Highlands, 107 cars have that plate.
Another favorite in Highlands County is “Choose Life,” a plate that came out July 1, 1999, on 163 vehicles.
It charges $20 per tag to help programs that give alternatives to abortion.
The same number of drivers, 163, chose “Salute Firefighters,” a $20-fee plate that raises funds for Florida firefighters charities.
After those, environmental interests were popular. The highest ranking ones were:
• Protect the Panther — 156.
• Protect Wild Dolphins — 136.
• Helping Sea Turtles Survive — 123.
• Save the Manatee — 122.
One tag that has recently gained more takers is “Endless Summer,” also an environmental tag. In Highlands County, 113 drivers pay $25 per tag to support Surfing’s Evolution and Preservation Foundation Inc.