MILLBURY, Mass. - The state of Massachusetts was the first state in the US to issue license plates back in 1903. If two men who behind a landmark effort have their way, it will also be the first state to issue the EZ-ID license plates.
The EZ-ID license plate movement is led by Gary P. Richard from the North Shore, who is the president of the EZ-ID program, and locally by Jay Gardiner, who is the Director of Anna Maria College's Molly Bish Center. The EZ-ID.org is a non-profit organization committed to enhancing general issue license plate formats to include a randomly assigned basic symbol, such as a star, heart, diamond, or circle, etc., into each registration number itself. This makes it easier to recognize, remember, and report license plate registrations for all law enforcement purposes. This program does not displace specialty, low number, or vanity plates, as these are already more recognizable.
The idea, is that it will make it much easier for citizens to recognize and identify cars that are used in cases specifically for Amber Alerts as well as other issues. Each general issue license plate would have one randomly assigned symbol, which would be used with the other numbers and letters on the driver's registration.
Asked about why this had never been done before, Gardiner said, "I can't tell you how many times I've heard this. People, once they see this are amazed, it simply uses shapes and symbols we use all the time to enhance license plate formatting simply so they can remember the plate. And then they can report the plate, even children."
Children learn symbols before they learn to read or write. Even eye charts for children and illiterate adults use symbols instead of letters. Gardiner said. Cognitive studies show that children as young as 2 1/2 years old can remember a symbol a week later, whereas random numbers and letters are a challenge even for adults to remember.
The letter over number code on the left side of the plate, similar to the letter over letter codes used on specialty plates, allows the police and registry to input the symbol's letter designator and position into their computers through standard computer keyboards.
The symbol can be recognized through a rear view mirror and by the large segment of the population with dyslexia, whereas letters and numbers become illegible, he added.
Both Richard and Gardiner were in Millbury recently to film a program on Millbury Public Access television with host Joe Coggans to bring to light their efforts to bring this idea to fruition. On Saturday, Gardiner explained that Richards came up with the idea using road signs that sprang up 35+ years ago.
"You know, if you go back to the late 60s and early 70s, those road signs started to pop up with the hospital symbols, gasoline, police etc., about 50 universal symbols that aided motorists, even those who couldn't read or write English a way to recognize these things," he said. "No one has ever looked at the license plate."
The initiative has gotten tremendous support from Mass. and RI's chiefs of police, sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies and now many local political leaders are coming on board. Gardiner stated that U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthall (D-CT) wants to bring this to national level, here in Central Mass. they have already gotten the support of Sheriff Lew Evangelidis and State Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury), who have spoken out in favor of the project.
"It's an idea who's time has come," Gardiner said. "If you're dyslexic, the symbols will look the same whether looking straight at it or in a mirror for other motorists." He added an interesting footnote to this, "right now about 70 percent of crime involve motor vehicles, law enforcement forces are not getting an accurate read of the license plates, less than one percent of the time. Law enforcement isn't getting the proper information and critical time is being lost."
By adding symbols to the plate, the DMV will be able to cut down on the number of numerals to only four, not only making it simpler to remember, but increasing the size of the font making it easier to see as well.
"Over time the fonts have been reduced, now we'll be able to increase it back to where it was a long time ago," Gardiner said.
The number of combinations with the symbols included will total 107 million, which should be plenty for the Mass. DMV.
If Richard and Gardiner have their way, Massachusetts, already a leader in Medicine, Education and Public Health will become a national leader in public safety with this initiative. Senate Bill S1798 currently on Beacon Hill deals with the EZ-ID issue.