SC proposes DMV-controlled electronic license plates

Elizabeth Dorton Contributor
Font Size:

South Carolina is considering a formal switch from regular license plates to solar-powered plates that will be electronically controlled by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Compliance Innovations, the South Carolina-based company that wants to manufacture the plates and provide them to the state for less than $100 (the normal price is between $3 and $7), has provided a visual on their site. With one swipe of the mouse, a plain plate is emblazoned with bright red “EXPIRED.”

In an effort to make the South Carolinian roads safer, supporters say the goal is to better advertise ‘criminal-status’ to the authorities. The DMV could electronically announce the offense on the license plate, easily broadcasting it to passing police cars.

Compliance Innovation’s site demo displays examples such as “Amber Alert,” “Uninsured,” and “Suspended” in their visual diagram. The idea is that once an offense has been committed, the driver’s license has been suspended, or their insurance has not been paid, the DMV can send an instant announcement electronically.

According to company executives, the subsequently reduced number of uninsured drivers could lead insurance providers to drop their rates.

A local news site writes that this could also help in the case of stolen cars, with “STOLEN” showing up on the license after the DMV sends in the call.

But in theory, the state will be able to write whatever it wants.

David Findlay, president and co-founder of Compliance Innovations, described the technology behind the e-tags as “the first of its kind,” going on to explain how it works. Rather than using LED or LCD, the plates are made of “electronic paper.”

Powered by the car’s vibrations and a transparent film placed over the tag that generates solar power, “It’s a new technology that allows you to hold the image with no power whatsoever for over 10 years. The only time it needs power is when you’re changing the status or the image on the plate,” he said.

Brian Bannister, another co-founder of the company, described further how they will be able to tailor the message exactly “how the state wants” to see it.

“We actually put that wording on the license plate across the top and, depending on how the state wants it, it could be in bright red, and we can actually flash the plate, have it flashing as it goes down the road,” he explained.

In 2010, the state of California considered electronic license plates as well, but with a twist: Pop-up advertisements would be featured on the plates.

Though the state of Arizona conducted a 2008 cost-benefits analysis study comparing electronic license plates to standard, currently they are not a fixture under the state’s legislature.

Right now, Compliance Innovations is suggesting a state-run trial program using the electronic plates on state-owned vehicles.

Bannister also addressed one facet of the privacy issue, explaining how these electronic plates cannot simply be used to track any vehicle that has one.

“No one entity could actually track an individual vehicle. It would require three court orders: to the DMV; to us; and the (cellular) carrier themselves to actually be able to locate a vehicle,” he said.