Skip to main content

Have you ever noticed how many semi-trucks have license plates from Indiana? At last count, 274,068 semi-truck tractors were registered in Indiana. That is more than every state in the country–besides California and Texas. Why? The answer may be that Indiana allows semi-truck owners to have custom vanity plates.

Trucking is a big industry in Indiana…but not that big

Three semi-truck tractor trailers drive in opposite directions along Indiana's I-74 interstate highway, unplanted farm fields visible in the foreground.
Semi-trucks on I-74 in Indiana | David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Indiana is centrally located and has several large industries. So it’s no surprise that many trucking companies and truck drivers call it home. Because interstate highways I-80 and I-90 both run through Indiana, much of the cargo going in and out of the Northeast passes through the state.

According to, the top 10 products hauled by Indiana truckers are as follows:

  1. Miscellaneous medications
  2. Motor vehicle transmissions
  3. Small gas-powered trucks
  4. Aircraft, including engines and parts
  5. Immunological goods for retail sale
  6. Large automobiles (piston engine)
  7. Diesel engines
  8. Artificial joints, parts, accessories
  9. Trailers, semi-trailers (housing, camping)
  10. Composite diagnostic/laboratory reagents

Several major semi-truck fleet companies operate out of Indianapolis, where many of the state’s major highways converge. You might be tempted to say that most of the 274,068 semi-truck tractors registered in Indiana call the Hoosier State home. But you’d be wrong.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that there are 1.7 million U.S. citizens employed as semi-truck drivers. 210,940 of them call Texas home (and drive the 275,490 trucks registered in Texas). Another 186,140 truckers call California home (California has 313,600 registered trucks). Indiana, despite its 275k+ registered semi-truck tractors, doesn’t have enough truck drivers to even make the BLS’s Top Five list.

It’s an odd discrepancy. But the answer may be as simple as custom license plates.

Indiana pioneered the semi-truck vanity license plate business

A series of semi-truck tractors with Indiana registration license plates.
Truck stop in Whiteland, Indiana | Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

According to Automotive Fleet, Indiana rolled out the first custom semi-truck license plate program in 2004. This small change to its regulations made it one of the most popular states for semi-truck tractor regulations. But not because truck drivers desperately wanted vanity plates. It was likely fleet operators hoping to reduce plate theft who made Indiana registrations so popular.

Stephen Russell, chairman and CEO of the Celadon Group trucking company, revealed. “We lose 100 to 150 plates to theft every year.” Why? Because a semi-truck tractor plate can cost $1,800. Russell admitted, “It’s a real pain in the back side, and a real financial burden.”

Even though UPS is based in Atlanta, the company saw the benefit of vanity plates and moved 90% of its fleet registrations to Indiana. Other converts have included Allied Van Lines Inc., Atlas Van Lines Inc., FedEx Corp., Global Van Lines Inc., North American Van Lines, Penske Truck Leasing, and Ryder Truck Rental Inc.

Dan McMackin of UPS admitted that the decision wasn’t purely financial. “The benefit of this program to us was evident on a number of levels…Not only does it cut down on plate theft potential, we think it helps with branding. These plates look good on the truck and anytime you can extend your brand, we think that’s good for business.” 

How much money does Indiana make on semi-truck tractor registration?

The average new semi-truck tractor registration costs $1,800. So with 274,068 semi-trucks registered in Indiana, the state could have seen millions in fees over the past decade.

Officials from the Indiana Department of Revenue said they planned to use this money for transportation upgrades, such as highway improvements.

Next, find out why so many semi-truck trailers are registered in Maine, or see NBC’s investigation into why the trucking industry is struggling in the video below: