In an effort to improve highway safety, South Carolina is considering a proposal to switch from metal license plates to new electronic plates
, also called e-tags.
The proposal is still in its early stages. If e-tags are adopted, they would be electronically linked to the DMV. The DMV would send a signal to the license plate identifying the driver with words like "SUSPENDED" or "UNINSURED" so an officer could know immediately whether to pull over the driver without having to run the license plate numbers.
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If the car is stolen, the tag would make the license plate read "STOLEN." The state could also use the tags during Amber Alerts or other emergencies.
David Findlay, co-founder of Compliance Innovations, the South Carolina company that created the e-tags, explained how the plates work to local station WLTX.
"It's the first of its kind," Findlay said. "It's not an LCD or an LED. What it's made of is electronic paper. 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."
The power for the plates comes from the vibrations of the car, and from a transparent film over the tag that collects solar power, according to WLTX.
"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," said Brian Bannister, co-founder of Compliance Innovations.
Though the DMV would be sending information, they wouldn't be able to locate or track drivers.
Compliance Innovations is proposing the state use e-tags as a pilot program with state-owned vehicles, as there are several aspects of the program that need to be tweaked, such as reducing the size of the prototype e-tags so they're the same size as current license plates, and bringing down production costs.
A metal license plate costs between $3 and $7 to make. Findlay said his company is hoping to reduce the cost to make e-tags to less than $100.
Despite the price of e-tags, the company maintains the state would save big in other ways.
The state loses $150 million a year because of drivers who drive with expired tags or without insurance, and Findlay and Bannister say if South Carolina switches to e-tags, it would reduce the number of uninsured drivers, and insurance companies would then lower their rates.
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