How about an electronic license plate?

It seems that the state of South Carolina – rarely at the forefront of anything – may be proposing something fairly interesting: An electronic license plate.

There is no telling if these plates would ever see the light of day. For one, they are potentially expensive – the inventor is trying to get the cost under $100 per plate (which means that they are over that point now). There does not appear to be a reliable source for the cost of the metal plates, but since they are often rumored to be stamped out in stacks by prisoners, you have to assume they are awfully cheap.

Which makes the question: Why switch?

Perhaps the most obvious question comes down to the advantages inherent in such a plate. Since it supposedly has some form of e-ink (not unlike the Amazon Kindle), it means that the plates do not have any number pre-populated. They are simply waiting to be programmed, and once assigned, they can receive a signal to get their number.

This would mean an end to 30-day tags. For those of you who do not live in a state with 30-day tags, it means you buy a car and get a temporary tag with a date drawn on it 30 days from the date you purchased the car. The paperwork is sent in and you are sent a plate in the mail later. There should no longer be a need for this. Instead, the process is done electronically and the plates could be programmed immediately by the dealer. Even person-to-person transfers may be possible since the plates can be programmed via cell phone.

More information can be shown. For one, if you decide to change your plate – get a customized plate, for instance, then it would seem logical that the plate could be reprogrammed and you are done. No need to stand in line or anything. Even more importantly – and yes, perhaps a bit creepily – if your plate is suspended or you do not carry insurance, the plate could reflect that information too. You know what? This doesn’t bother me. I don’t really think it should bother you. If it does, maybe you shouldn’t be driving.

There are times that invasion of privacy is an issue, but I don’t think this is it. I’m not a huge fan of the government (see elsewhere), but if we have already acquiesced to having a license on our vehicle, then it should be current. If it’s not, I don’t have a problem with there being an obvious notification that it’s not. Similarly, I keep my insurance current because while I don’t like insurance, I would rather carry insurance than run the risk of not having it. Perhaps it should simply say “uninsured” and let there be a lane for all you uninsured people. It would be like a demolition derby.

Apparently another use could be for things like Amber Alerts. This probably makes some amount of sense too. I’d like to see Amber Alerts be used on the road instead of sent to the television – because frankly, I don’t see the sense of getting an alert in my living room when I’m less likely to see someone driving by my couch, you know?

That leaves the issue of cost. In North Carolina – which is not South Carolina, for those keeping track at home – we have to pay a registration each year to renew our plate. We have to pay for an inspection. And we have to pay property tax. The registration and the inspection are fixed – currently $28 and $30, respectively (these can vary a bit, depending on the county you live in and the age of your car, but generally not by much). The property tax changes based on the value of your car, but mostly declines.

Essentially, these are taxes because they don’t mean much of anything to anyone but the state. Inspections are useful to keep your car running well, but that’s about it. I’m assuming that the cost of these plates would make those numbers go up – so add a couple bucks on there, make it one cost (the “tax and tag together” program alleges to do this already) and roll it out.