Monday, July 10, 2006

Too Many Specialty Plates?

The Indianapolis Star has a front-page feature today on the growing number of specialty license plates in Indiana. There are now more than 60 organizations and universities which have their own speciality license plate. The Star's Mary Beth Schneider picks up on the mystery of the process:

A review of the applications accepted and rejected by the state shows a process replete with mystery. All of the applicants met the statutory requirements for the plates, which can generate thousands of dollars for groups.

But it's not clear why some were granted while others were not -- although administration officials reject claims that politics influence the decision.

"I don't necessarily have a good reason," Daniels said when asked how the administration chooses between one qualified group and another for the plates. "I can't make a good case for the choice of one versus another."

But, he said, one issue is "how broad the support seems to be and how broad the demand seems to be."

To me, license plates serve three primary purposes: (a) a statewide registration system for all motor vehicles; (b) identification of vehicles for law enforcement purposes; and (c) a source of state revenues. At least one of these purposes is undermined by the specialty license plate program--identification of vehicles for law enforcement purposes.

When police are trying to identify a vehicle which may have been used in the commission of a crime, the first thing they ask witnesses after obtaining a description of the vehicle, did you get a license plate number? Because Indiana has so many special license plates, it is difficult to always know whether the plate on a vehicle is an Indiana-issued license plate or not, let alone trying to remember the license plate number. Making matters worse, Indiana does not use the traditional alpha-numeric sequence utilized by other states in assigning numbers to license plates. Instead, it uses a sequence based upon county identifiers. If you live in Marion Co., a regular Indiana plate will most likely begin with the numbers "49" followed by a single alpha such as "D", which is followed by a series of numbers. If you ask me what my license plate number is, I can only tell you that it begins with "49D". I honestly can't remember the the full number on my Indiana-issued plate, even though I see it on almost a daily basis as I get into my car.

There's a reason most states use an alpha-numeric numbering system for their license plates. Experts have discovered that people are most likely to remember a series of letters (preferably no more than 3) followed by a series of numbers. Also, most states issue a license plate for both the front and back of the vehicle. Indiana is one of a minority of states which issues only one license plate for the back of the vehicle. Studies have shown that people are more likely to identify a license plate on the front of the vehicle rather than the back of the vehicle.

So what's my point? Indiana has lost sight of the essential purposes for having a license plate on automobiles. While seeking to please many groups and organizations with a specialty license plate, the state is severely undermining the law enforcement purposes behind the license plate. It seems to me that we should be placing a higher priority on law enforcement than the vanity of the people behind these organizations and universities.

1 comment:

Jay said...

AMEN. We have this discussion in our household all the time. Folks from other states think it's a joke when they visit here and see the plates. Several friends have asked if everyone here made their own.
Maybe the state would rethink this embarrassing policy if I suggested one that celebrated Indiana's dropout rates, or number of smokers?