Want to promote your nonprofit? Have $4,000? Congratulations, you too can have your very own S.C. license plate.
Better hurry, though. If a bill on the plates passes as is expected this week, that cost will rise to $6,800. Not that that’s much better. It’s hard to see why we need any more license plates on the road at all. They’re superfluous, silly and, most importantly, a frustration for law enforcement.
The state already has 370 license plate designs available for drivers to choose from. That’s worth saying again. The state already has 370 approved license plate designs. The bill up for consideration in a conference committee this week would not only raise the price slightly for nonprofits to get their own, but it would also approve at a swoop more than 300 more designs, including plates honoring individual high schools throughout the state, largemouth bass, the Second Amendment and beach music. (Assuming it passes, beach music plate No. 2 is specifically reserved by law for the chairman of the Coastal Carolina University board of trustees.)
None of the nonprofits that benefit from the sales of such plates are bad. And they can be a good fundraising method. So what’s the problem with having 701 license plate designs for drivers to choose from? Law enforcement often need to be able to spot at a glance a driver’s tag number and state. Having hundreds of designs in a variety of colors complicates that task immeasurably.
Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster explained the issue last year to the Associated Press.
“We have encountered a lot of problems because every state has gone to this,” Foster said. “You can’t tell if a plate is from South Carolina, North Carolina or Kentucky. People just say, ‘Oh, it was red and white. I couldn’t make it out.’”
Claire O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Associations, echoed the worry in the same article.
“Law enforcement is growing increasingly concerned that the original purpose of vehicle license plates – vehicle identification – is being compromised by the proliferation of license plate designs nationally,” O’Brien said.
And yet the new plates keep coming. Particularly frustrating is that even those complaining about the issue are compounding it. Foster admitted that his own vehicle sports a Newberry College plate. And among the new plates this week’s bill would allow is an S.C. Highway Patrol-Retired plate, requested by troopers. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, apparently.
One possible solution? The state could issue one basic template and color scheme for all of the license plates, but allow nonprofits to have special plates made with their own logo in the corner. Such a solution would allow for customization, while still preserving the ability of law enforcement to use them for quick identification when needed. This seems to be what lawmakers are proposing in the law, which calls for new special plates to be the same “general design” as regular license plates. If so, it’s a step forward, but still with too many plates already available to confuse officers.
Lawmakers might risk offending supporters of libraries, USC baseball or Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, all of which are poised to get new plates, but voting against the creation of so many new ones and killing this bill when it comes up this week should be common sense.