BOSTON (State House News Service) — Redesigning the stateâ€™s license plates to include symbols, like stars and diamonds, a potentially life-saving change that public safety advocates say would make plates more easily recognizable, appears headed to a task force to study.
Police, public safety organizations, child advocates, and some lawmakers say featuring recognizable symbols on plates will make it easier to identify cars used during a crime. Massachusetts is one of several states considering the change, along with Connecticut and Rhode Island, according to advocates.
A bill to create a task force (S 2387) cleared the House and Senate last week and its sponsors hope the legislation will soon receive final enactment votes needed to reach Gov. Deval Patrickâ€™s desk.
The idea stems from child abductions in the state, including the disappearance and murder of 16-year-old
Molly Bish in 2000. Advocates have pushed for eight years to rework the stateâ€™s license plates to five characters with a symbol, which they say can be easily identified even by a two-year-old child.
Supporters were originally hoping to change license plates over the next few years, but settled on a bill creating a task force to look at the proposal.
Magi Bish, Mollyâ€™s mother, was at the State House last week advocating for the bill, known as
â€śMollyâ€™s bill.â€ť She told the News Service she was unable to remember the license plate of a suspicious car she saw the day before at the pond where she dropped her daughter off to work as a lifeguard.
If the new license plate designs are eventually adopted, supporters envision them being rolled out over five years as drivers replace their existing plates.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), the billâ€™s sponsor, said the proposed change â€śspeaks to the fundamental reason we have license plates,â€ť allowing people to recall them quickly, often in an emergency. Tarr said when he speaks to groups about the proposal many cannot recall their own plate number.
â€śWe could do better, and I think this is a good system,â€ť he said.
Estimated costs vary, but Tarr said the system could be rolled out as part of the stateâ€™s next round of new plates. A spokesman for the Registry of Motor Vehicles said they have participated in several meetings on the proposal and will look at the potential impacts and costs as part of the task force. The task force will be chaired by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.
The task force would analyze and collect data on the use of
â€śEZ-ID platesâ€ť â€“ the brainchild of Danvers businessman and inventor Gary Richard. EZ-ID plates feature four alphanumeric characters and one easily recognized symbol, like a star, diamond or circle. Richard said he came up with the idea after Bish was abducted and murdered.
Richard, an inventor and semiconductor distributor, said most people cannot recall the string of six random numbers and letters on most license plates. The new design would not affect vanity and specialty license plates.
â€śLicense plates give you the illusion that you can look at a plate and recall it. It is remarkable how few people know their own plate that they look at every day,â€ť Richard told the News Service Tuesday.
It takes only seconds for someone to scan the information off an Amber alert board when a child is abducted, but the Amber system doesnâ€™t do any good if witnesses are unable to give police a license plate number, Richard said.
â€śIt is effectively useless if you cannot get the information up there,â€ť he said. â€śThis is the one-two punch with the Amber alert.â€ť
Richard said the genesis of the idea was a childâ€™s abduction, but once he began talking to police officials they said it could help solve many crimes. Several police organizations, including the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, and the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association, support a task force, writing letters to legislators.
Chief Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, told the News Service his organization â€śstronglyâ€ť supports the creation of a task force to look at redesigning plates. Police have advocated for years to revamp plates because they are hard to recognize, he said.
â€śIt is a very promising proposal that if it is effective it could change really the whole concept of license plate recognition in the country,â€ť Sampson said Tuesday. â€śIf there is an easier way to license plate recognition, the law enforcement community will support this program 100 percent.â€ť
Last October, during a legislative hearing on the original bill (S 1798) Transportation Committee co-chairman Rep. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett) expressed concern that police and others might not be able to input symbols with existing technology. Tarr said he has spoken with law enforcement officials who say they are comfortable their current technology could handle it.
Along with the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, the task force will be made up of legislators, state police and local law enforcement officers, as well as representatives from the Molly Bish Center â€“ a nonprofit that advocates for childrenâ€™s safety. The task force would have to file its report by Dec. 31, 2013.
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