There are hundreds of specialty license plates in South Carolina that honor everything from Clemson and the University of South Carolina to the South Carolina Cattlemen’s Association and the Secular Humanists of the Low Country.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles lists 137 different plates on its website that drivers can purchase. However, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators says there are actually more than 370 options in the state. That compares with roughly 100 in North Carolina.
The legislature is about to approve hundreds more with a bill that would create 16 new specific plates and also give high schools the ability to create their own, if they wish. The bill passed the House in April and needs only another vote in the Senate when the chambers return in January.
However, some members– such as Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) — believe the process needs to slow down.
Pitts says he’s concerned police officers have trouble reading the plates when they make a traffic stop at night. “It’s bad enough with 50 different (state) license plates,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “But then when you throw in 700 specialized plates, and a lot of them look very similar, and you’re trying to decipher if (it’s) a South Carolina special plate or what… It just takes your concentration away.”
Pitts, a retired officer himself, said he’s worried police might make a mistake while reporting the license plate during a traffic stop. “To most people that might seem minor,” he said, “But that license plate may be the only connection between authorities and a suspect. If the situation goes bad for a police officer, you’ve got to have it accurate.”
The Legislature approved many of the specialty plates, but nonprofit groups can also get them if they have 400 requests with prepaid fees, or make a $4,000 deposit. Most of the specialty plates (such as for Clemson and USC) have a fee attached, with the proceeds benefitting the nonprofit.
Pitts said he has consistently opposed the plates as they came through the legislature. However, he is sponsoring this year’s bill, which also gives the DMV the power to adjust its fees (and increasing the required deposit to $6,800). Pitts said he was approached to create a special tag for retired highway troopers.
“When the troopers came to me… I said them, ‘Look, guys, I’ve been opposed to these plates all along and I really don’t see the necessity of them,'” he said, “And those guys told me, ‘Well, if those guys have one, why can’t we have one?’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s a legitimate argument.'”
Pitts’s request was combined with other legislators’ to create the current bill. The proposed rules would also require any new specialty plates to have similar designs, only changing insignia and logos. That has the approval of DMV Director Kevin Schwedo.
The bill’s other sponsor, Rep. Garry Smith (R-Greenville), told the Associated Press he hoped the bill would the beginning of the end for new specialty plates. However, Pitts was not optimistic. “Some members asked me at a dinner if I had ever considered an NRA plate,” he said, “I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.”