Recently, and with great interest, I read Thomas’s article on electronic license plates. For those of you who haven’t read it, and are therefore hopelessly behind the times, a quick summary:
1. The state of South Carolina, noted location of heavily armed backyard cookouts, is reportedly considering a proposal to switch to electronic license plates.
2. The proposal came from a company that no one’s heard of, presumably based in a split-level condominium located very far from South Carolina.
3. The company has not announced where all the screens will come from, though my personal recommendation is unsold inventory of the Barnes & Noble Nook.
4. The proposal hinges on the fact that – while the electronic license plates will cost something like 17 times more than the current, non-electronic ones – they will announce in huge letters if you haven’t paid your registration fees. This will generate revenue by shaming people into paying registration fees.
5. The state has not yet revealed exactly how the license plates will attach to cars, though we can be sure that, whichever method they choose, it will have dangerous unintended consequences.
6. Eventually, the license plates will be hacked, the state will scrap the program, and the governor will flee to South America to visit his mistress.
I, personally, am not in favor of electronic license plates. But it’s not for the reason you think. While many people are angry about the proposal because they fear government tracking (and by the way: nice timing, South Carolina), I don’t mind being tracked by the government. This stems from the fact that, if the government were to track me, they would quickly discover I am an unemployed writer who spends a lot of money on cookies.
Instead, my disdain for the program largely stems from the fact that I am a license plate aficionado. Essentially, this means that every single license plate that has ever graced one of my cars is assembled on a wall in my home that is now highly reflective. If license plates became electronic, I could no longer do this, which means I would have to buy actual posters or something. This would give me less money for cookies.
So electronic license plates are clearly a bad idea. Fortunately, I’ve devised something better to appease the South Carolina state government who, for the first time in history, wants to be on the cutting edge of something. And that something better is: electronic road signs.
Before you dismiss my idea as unreasonable (and by the way, it is unreasonable), hear me out.
Say you’re cruising along at 2am on a highway where the speed limit is 55. It’s a clear night and there aren’t any cars around for miles, so they flip the switch and the speed limit jumps to 65. So you go a little faster, and they flip it back to 55 before rush hour the next morning.
Alternatively, say you’re driving down a curvy stretch of country highway at 10pm and it’s pouring. They flip the switch and the speed limit drops from 55 to 45, which tells you to slow down. All of these numbers, by the way, are in miles per hour, as I wouldn’t want to attempt any further metric conversions.
Of course, carrying this to its logical conclusion, you could really do anything with electronic signs. For instance: you’re driving along on a normal road, going the speed limit, and suddenly an electronic sign flashes ahead of you that says: “SLOW DOWN: CHICKENS IN THE ROAD.” This is how you know you’re in South Carolina.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: What’s to prevent the police from just changing the speed limit as you drive by? And the answer is: nothing. This would make driving even more exciting, as you constantly have to be aware of the speed limit. That’s completely different from today, when no one knows the speed limit, meaning they just drive at whatever speed they “feel comfortable.”
Admittedly, some places already have rudimentary electronic signs. In Atlanta, for instance, they have enormous lighted billboards over the highway that read: “DISTANCE TO EXIT 222: 9 MILES. TRAVEL TIME: 9 MINUTES.” When you see these signs, you can be sure of precisely two things: one is that reaching exit 222 will take some amount of time other than nine minutes. And two, exit 222 is somewhere between 10 and 14 miles away. But the signs are there, and when it comes to local government, the effort is what really counts.
Still, these signs don’t control your speed, nor do they inform you of wildlife on the road. That’s a job for the South Carolina state legislature, who can have my tin license plate when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.
@DougDeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.