What is EZ-ID?
EZ-ID is a new license plate format which uses universally recognizable symbols, such as a star, heart, diamond, square, circle, tri-angle, etc., along with alpha numeric characters, to give a graphic that even young children can recognize, remember, and report. Each general issue plate would have one randomly assigned symbol, along with other numbers and letters, making up the individual’s plate registration number. EZ-ID would not displace specialty plates, low number plates, or vanity plates, as these are already more recognizable.
Is there legislation for EZ-ID?
Yes, legislation is pending as Senate Bill S2387 which is also known as “Molly’s Bill.” It has been in the Massachusetts Transportation Committee for 8 years, but is now vetted in both the House and Senate and passage is imminent.
Who invented EZ-ID and why?
Gary P. Richard is the inventor of the EZ-ID License Plate Program. After seeing the news reports on the abductions of two children, he decided to do something about child abduction. In June of 2000, Molly Bish was abducted from her lifeguard job in Warren, Massachusetts; her remains were found 3 years later, 5 miles from her home. In 2002, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her own bedroom, as her parents slept in the next room…she was held hostage for 9 months. These abductions had a profound affect on him, and he made a commitment to help stop these horrific crimes.
The key to child abduction is the private vehicle
In analyzing the abduction of a child, Gary soon realized that the key to child abduction is the private vehicle; the bad guys do not take the bus to abduct a child. The key to identifying any vehicle is the license plate. The problem is…that random numbers and letters are too abstract and difficult to remember, even for an adult, especially in a time of crisis. A young child has virtually no chance at all, to recall such random information.
Critical timing in the recovery of a child, and help with other crimes
Every second is critical in the recovery of a child. Statistics show that if abduction leads to the death of a child, 44% will be dead in the first hour, 74% within 3 hours, and 91% within 24 hours. The new EZ-ID format would also help with hit and runs, general crime, road rage incidents, stolen vehicles, and homeland security, etc.
Why the use of symbols?
Cognitive studies show that even a 2 ½ year old child can re-call a symbol…even a week later, this is before they ever learn to read or write numbers and letters. Even as adults we are challenged to remember random numbers and letters. In fact, most people who were surveyed did not know the license plate registration number on their own vehicle, which they use every day. Look at how symbols are used on the roads to identify something quickly and from a distance, such as for fuel, food, lodging, hospitals, airports, etc. Studies show that it takes about 7 seconds to read an Amber Alert sign, which is a challenge while driving, and even more challenging to remember. Posting the color of the vehicle, with a symbol, would allow people with cell phones to respond more quickly.
Do symbols offer any other advantages?
Yes! A large segment of the population is dyslexic, which makes numbers and letters difficult to read when reversed, whereas symbols are mirror images of themselves…a star is still a star when reversed. This also allows people to identify symbols when looking in their rear view mirrors.
How would we teach children, and even adults, to identify vehicles?
We would teach everyone to try and identify the color of the car, and the symbol, which would greatly narrow the search. Safety officers would go into the schools, with posters, and games like “car bingo,” to start educating children. Ideally, we would try to teach the public to identify the color of the vehicle, the symbol, and two other characters, which is as much information that one could hope to realistically identify and remember. On a 4 character, or double character format, this would reduce the suspect vehicle down to low double, or single numbers, as almost every state would only need to use 5 characters including the symbol, due to the increased number of mathematical combinations.
With fewer characters than the current 6 and 7 character systems, there would be fewer characters to remember, and the characters could be made larger, making them easier to see from further distances. With the search narrowed to about 1 in 123 vehicles, the driver could be identified in a matter of minutes. This would be a very strong deterrent to abductors. Some have said that these bad guys will just steal other license plates, but in trying to do so, there is a greater risk in getting caught. Also, not all abductions are planned out, some are spur of the moment, and by the time an abductor would try to steal and install two license plates, the potential victim may no longer be vulnerable. Stiffer penalties for stealing license plates could then be legislated, which would take more criminals off of the streets.
Have there been any changes to license plates over the years?
Yes the fonts on license plates have gotten smaller. States have done this to make room for advertising graphics and slogans, in order to promote tourism interest. Unfortunately, this has made license plates more difficult to read. EZ-ID would help by reducing the number of characters, there would be fewer characters to remember, and the fonts could be made larger and easier to see from greater distances. The states could still utilize their advertising/tourism graphics with EZ-ID.
How would the Police and Registry input a symbol into the system using a standard computer keyboard, as these do not have keys for a star, heart, diamond, etc.?
The EZ-ID format utilizes a small letter over number code, to the left of the individual’s main plate registration number; this is similar to the letter over letter code used on current specialty plates like the Boston Red Sox plates, which have an “R” over an “S” For example, with EZ-ID an “S” (the letter designates the symbol code, such as an S for star, D for diamond, H for a heart, etc.) over a “3” (the number tells the position code of the symbol in the plate’s registration numbering sequence), this would mean that there is a star in the 3rd position in the individual’s plate registration number. The Registry and Police can input the EZ-ID code through any standard computer keyboard, just as they would for the Red Sox plates, or any other specialty plates.
What do the Police and Registry think about the new format?
EZ-ID has the endorsement of major law enforcement groups from around New England. The system had been perfected after regular meetings were held at the Massachusetts Statehouse with members of local law enforcement, Massachusetts State Police, the Registry, legislators, citizens, and even a representative from CJIS, the Criminal Justice Information System division of the FBI, and others, with all parties providing valuable input for Gary Richard to further refine the system. This system would be compatible with other states. We thank each of these individuals for their valuable input.
When Weymouth Police Officer, Bob Barry, then current President of the Massachusetts Safety Officer’s League, spoke at the Statehouse press conference…he passionately stated, “We need programs like this. This is a blessing!“
What other support does EZ-ID have?
There has been great support for the Program by affected families such as the Bish Family, Smart family, and many others. Numerous children’s groups and institutions and also endorsed EZ-ID. Numerous legislators have also endorsed the Program, with State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, being the lead sponsor.
What about the cost of changing the current alpha-numeric system?
The cost appears to be the biggest concern of legislators in adopting this new format. There would be about $40,000 in tooling, which Gary Richard has pledged to raise, if that is a an obstacle, plus some programming changes to the Registry software. The legislation is currently written for plates to be changed out over a 5 year period, as registrations came up for renewal. Massachusetts is seeking to have the large number of old green and white plates turned in anyway, as many have deteriorated to point where they cannot even be read anymore. This would be a very opportune time to issue new EZ-ID plates, when the green and white plates are being changed out anyways.
Each state would enjoy millions of dollars in new revenues, through the creative ways that people can also use the symbols on new vanity plates, which would pay for the new system, and even become a positive revenue generator for the state! Millions of dollars are also being lost at the tolls, which the new plates would minimize.
What about current specialty plates, low number plates, and vanity plates that are already out there, would these need to be replaced also?
No, these plates would not be replaced, as they are already more identifiable. Having a Red Sox Symbol, for example, gives the public a graphic to identify and report. New specialty plates would also be welcomed as they always include some sort of symbol or graphic, which is easier to identify. There is even a lottery for low number license plates, as they are in such demand…EZ-ID would create many new low number plate options with symbols.
Why hasn’t this become law?
For about 8 years, these Bills (previously submitted as Bill S2316, Bill S2097, and Bill S1967) have been in the Massachusetts Transportation Committee. After substantial review, the Bill has been voted out favorably under the new Transportation leadership, to form a “Task Force” made up from State and Federal agencies. The Bill is awaiting final edits before moving to the Governor’s desk for signing.
What other states are interested in the Program?
Due to a lack of funding and time, EZ-ID this has not been widely promoted. That being said, a similar Bill made great progress in Connecticut before the end of their legislative session, and there is strong interest in Rhode Island. Other states have also shown interest in following Massachusetts’ lead. We feel that when one state enacts it, all the others will follow suit, and this could eventually be adopted around the world.
Could this become part of the Amber Alert Program, or could it be run through some other organization?
Absolutely! Unfortunately, efforts to try and reach and partner with such organizations have not been successful. Also, license plates come under individual state jurisdictions, and therefore cannot be legislated nationally. EZ-ID is the 1-2 punch with Amber Alert.
Are there any additional ways to improve license plates?
Yes, the technology exists to make paints photoluminescent. This would make them glow in the dark all night long just by absorbing light from the sun, and from the vehicle’s running lights. This would compliment, and not replace the current reflective properties being used on all plates. With glow in the dark features, cars could be seen even if criminals turn their running lights off. Plates that glow…would also help to locate vehicles that have run off the road. This an option listed under the legislation, though it is not a requirement. More research would be needed to incorporate this technology into future generations of license plates.
is pending as Senate Bill S2387