SC could switch to electronic license plates

SC could switch to electronic license plates

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A Columbia company wants to bring your car license plate into the 21st century.

The idea is a digital license tag that can be programmed from a cell signal when you buy the tag. Instead of the local Department of Motor Vehicles having to keep dozens of metal plates on hand, there would only be one type of plate.

When you register the plate, the programmed tag numbers would simply appear on it.

Compliance innovations President David Findlay said his product uses a small battery for power, but can be constantly charged.

"Even the vibrations of your car can charge it, and keep it running. It's so sensitive, the headlights of the car behind you could charge it," Findlay said.

Channel 9 explained the high-tech device to people at a York County DMV office, and reactions were mixed.

"I don't like that. It think it's compromising your privacy. It's too Big Brother-ish," said Julie Waldrop.

Doug Perkins sells cars for a living. He saw a positive side.

"It'll be good for Amber Alerts, when a child's missing," he said. "I think it'll be good and bad."

That's exactly what the manufacturer has in mind. Findlay said the plate uses something called e-paper that would only be a little thicker than a standard metal tag.

The plate can be instantly changed to read important messages such as an Amber Alert, but will also let the police (and other drivers) know if a tag is expired, if the driver is uninsured, or if the driver's license has been suspended. Everyone would be able to read that information right on the plate.

Some believe that would cut down on crime.

"To uphold the law would be a good thing, in my opinion," said Ron Waldrop.

Patsy Spargo wasn't sure how she felt about it, and she had concerns.

"The government, they can have too much control. I'd really have to think about it," she said.

The idea has not come up yet with state elected officials, but the makers of the device did approach several of them in Columbia this week.

Rep. Ralph Norman said the concept is worth a look. His concern is that out of 3.5 million registered drivers in South Carolina, 9 percent are uninsured. An electronic tag could help police get them off the roads.

"It's really interesting. You have to weigh the cost of it, and see what the cost is versus the benefit, but I like it," Norman said.

Findlay said Compliance Innovations is trying to get the cost down to about $100 per tag. He said the tag should last a decade or longer.

California lawmakers recently looked at buying LED-based electronic license plates, and allowing ads on them to help pay for them. The measure to approve the purchase did not pass.