Let’s kill license plates

Credit: flickr/Joelk75

Some jurisdictions require two of them: license plates. Some places, like Indiana where I live, require just one. We don’t even need that one. Vehicle makers have for ages, tried to find a place perfectly situated on the front and rear of a car for the plate. Placing the location for a license plate mount ruins the aesthetic lines of many vehicles.

That we have to deal with them at all is problematic. The plate(s) might change every year, or they might be updated with stickers. People like to put them in the rear window, or cover them with cool protectors—both illegal in Indiana, but apparently legal in other jurisdictions.

Plates are stolen. Four miserable bolts usually hold them into wretchedly rusted mounts. They rust. In some states, if you leave the state, you’ll find you don’t even own the plate, and the state will come after you to get it back (are you blushing, Massachusetts?). Yes, plates are a nuisance.

They have little stickers on some of them, expanding their date of expiration, or perhaps changing its nature for a new sub-jurisdiction. They allow law enforcement to get a visual indication of whether you’ve paid your fees and taxes, and fine you if you haven’t done that. Yet law enforcement officials have computers that can take a picture of a plate, do the optical character recognition step of the identification, run it through a database match and know if it’s paid—faster than the time needed to put the sticker on the plate.

Plates in some parts of the world can be used to identify the county, parish, city-state, region, state, or area that one lives in. In Indiana, the numeric prefix on the plate used to indicate what county the vehicle was registered in. Move into a new county, and a new plate needed to be obtained, along with requisite fees and taxes paid to the new county of residence.

As a friend of mine and I flew up the Autobahn in Northwestern Germany a couple of years ago in his way-fast BMW, he explained to me how German plates worked, and how to decode a plate. Moving your residence in Germany isn’t like it is in the US, where you just show up and start living. In Germany, you must register, and many of your characteristics must be studiously recorded in your newly adopted jurisdiction. Failure to do so will be met with much soap opera and admonishing, and probably fines.

Yet in the past couple of years, I’ve been in eight countries, and 19 states. I’ve rented cars, driven my own, flown, took trains, and yes, walked in these places. Uniformly, each place has its own plate, as though they were little flags or standards to be borne. The plates tout slogans. They have sponsored advertisements.

The advertisers can be as simple as Breast Cancer Awareness. Some are more controversial. Many tout universities or Masonic membership. Some plates even have cache, like the famous gold-on-black lettered California plate- an indication of long life in a state that usually doesn’t salt its roads for vehicle currency judgments.

And not one of them is needed these days. Why? With just a little bit of engineering, every car maker in the world can embed an RFID into a car that can be read by Office Friendly (at a reasonable distance), radar or photo speed detectors, parking lot/meter detectors, even toll gates. The technology is available. It would save a lot of problems if we used RFID instead of the four-bolt license tags that we fret over. They could be made terrifically difficult to change or hack. Not impossible, but certainly tougher than tag-foolery that goes on today.

Imagine: No more ugly white boxes in windshields for automatic toll plaza egress. RFID embedded in the frame of a car ought to be able to be read at astounding speeds. No more stolen license plates or stolen cars with seemingly legitimate license plates. No more wicked-ugly license plates, please.

Read more of Tom Henderson's Rantopolis blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Tom on Twitter at @extremelabs. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon