Why are there so many New York license plates in Michigan?
November 23, 2019 7:20 PM   Subscribe

I live in southeast Michigan, but I see New York license plates almost every single day. Help me figure out this baffling mystery.

Other than Michigan license plates, there are 4 state license plates that I see frequently, and I can think of explanations for 3 of them.

Ohio: We border Ohio.

Illinois: Very close and a lot of business back and forth with Chicago.

Florida: There's a large population of "snow birds" who live here in Michigan during the summer, and live in Florida during the winter.

But I cannot for the life of me figure out why I see so many New York license plates. We aren't particularly close to New York. (If proximity was the explanation, you'd think I'd see a lot of Pennsylvania or Indiana plates, but I don't.) Do New York and Michigan have a symbiotic relationship of which I'm unaware? Is there a group of people who split their time between New York and Michigan? A large company with headquarters in both states? I'm so curious!
posted by quiet_musings to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up in Ann Arbor, and the only connection I'm aware of with New York is that a lot of the U of M's out of state students are from there — or at least, were ten or twenty years ago. Even if the trend's continued, though, I doubt it's enough to skew the license plate numbers for the whole region.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:26 PM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Rental cars maybe?
posted by amro at 7:55 PM on November 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you want to get to the midwest from Buffalo or upstate New York, driving through Canada and re-entering the US through Michigan takes only slightly longer. The Canadian route can also be a much more pleasant journey, depending on the time of year and your feelings about Ohio.
posted by jordemort at 8:44 PM on November 23, 2019 [18 favorites]

Best answer: jordemort has it. I work in Buffalo and live in Canada, and my New York coworkers are always talking about taking the route through Canada into Michigan for westward travel. It's like a very established thing.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:39 AM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's a mix of three of these things - lots of New Yorkers at UM, lots of people traveling between via Canada and lots of rentals. ( I live in Ann Arbor).
posted by leslies at 8:38 AM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

One reason is simply that New York has a population of 20 million.

Pennsylvania is about 12 million.

Most others that are about the same distance and relative position as New York, are much, much smaller--ranging from New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, and Massachusetts in the 3-8 million range to Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire are all 1.5 million or less.

I would expect to see 2X-50X the New York plates of most of those other states, simply based on population alone.

When you add in geography, that explains much of the rest. Just for example, the NY-Canada-Detroit route looks appealing if you are departing from say NY, MA, DE, NH, CT, or ME.

But definitely less appealing from Philadelphia and way less appealing from Pittsburgh.

So that explains the eastern seaboard states. What about the Midwest? If you draw a circle around Michigan large enough to take in, say, New York City, the midwestern states that are within that radius are far, far smaller in population. Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota. Max population there is about 6 million. So again, I'd expect to see 3-4X as many NY plates as any of those, just based on population alone.

So I think explains a big chunk of what you're seeing, though perhaps not all of it.
posted by flug at 6:22 PM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

If proximity was the explanation, you'd think I'd see a lot of Pennsylvania or Indiana plates, but I don't.

Building on the Buffalo-via-Canada-to-the-Midwest theory, it might be relevant that Michigan isn't on a good route from Indiana to anywhere in the US (though you'd pass through going to Central or Eastern Canada), and isn't on a good route from Pennsylvania to anywhere on earth.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:29 PM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

nebulawindphone has it. Michigan just isn't on the way to anywhere except between upstate New York or Canada and Chicago/points west. So the only out-of-state licenses you're going to see beside that is people who are actually driving *to* Michigan; the most populous states within easy driving distance to Detroit are Illinois and Ohio.

Anecdotally my experience (grew up in West Michigan) tracks with yours. Most out-of-state plates were Ontario, Illinois and Ohio, with some from Indiana & Wisconsin & Florida (snowbirds), and most of the remainder were high-population states from further away (New York, California, Texas).
posted by tivalasvegas at 11:24 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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