Should License Plates Be a Mixture of Letters and Symbols?

A special task force will meet with the public to talk about a proposed plan that they claim would make identifying cars much easier.

Hearts, stars, fish, squares, and diamonds—these are just a few of the universally identifiable symbols that could one day appear on license plates in Massachusetts.

On Tuesday night, Gary Richard, inventor of the Ez-Id license plate program, and a special task force designated by the state legislature, will meet in Worcester to give a presentation during a public hearing to inform drivers and elected officials about a pending plan to revamp the characters that appear on plates by adding recognizable non-alphanumeric images.

“It’s hard to recall abstract numbers and letters,” said Richard, president of Ez-Id, a non-profit organization. “If you ask 100 adults in a room, ‘what’s your license plate?,’ you would be shocked—shocked—how few people know their own license plate.”

Richard, who started the push to include symbols like flags, books, and plus-signs on state plates 12 years ago, in response to the abduction of Molly Bish in 2000, said these types of pictures would play a big role in helping law enforcement officials catch criminals.

“I had the epiphany that using symbols—things that we learn even before numbers and letters—would be universal,” he said. The proposed changes would apply to general-issue plates, not the optional vanity plates that feature low numbers or specialized plates with pictures of sports teams and whales on them.

For years his proposal sat stagnant inside the halls of the State House, but last session, to his relief, both the House and Senate agreed to create a team, called the EZ-ID Task Force, and charge them with “analyzing the feasibility” of utilizing symbols as part of the RMV’s vehicle registration system.

Tuesday’s meeting in Worcester will be used to gather feedback from the public as the group gets ready to submit a formal proposal of their findings to the legislature by December 31.

“The task force shall study the feasibility of such a system, its cost, the time frame for implementation, impact on federal, state, and local law enforcement and between states and the tools and equipment necessary to produce enhanced recognition and identification registration plates,” according to a statement from MassDOT.

The team is also looking into the psychology behind the use of symbols on plates as part of the proposal.

Richard said they would rely on “scientific studies” and testimony from research and clinical scientists, as well as medical professionals, to gauge how people react to and remember images they see on the plates. This research will help back up their plan to introduce symbols to the registration system.

“It’s important every question is raised and every stone is looked at so the public has a hand in the due diligence process,” said Richard.

“A lot remains to be seen,” he admitted, but if he had it his way, pictures for Massachusetts plates would include stars, hearts, a diamond, or a square.

“Maybe some other geometric shapes,” he said. “It could be a fish, a boat—it’s almost infinite.”

After the meeting Tuesday the task force will have another private meeting before they then make a recommendation to the legislature about their findings. After that, elected officials on Beacon Hill would have to take the proposal under advisement, and see if it needed further study, or if it was sufficient enough to move forward.