Highway safety seeking new license plates
By David Royse
The News Service of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, FL — The state highway safety agency is pushing for a new license plate that’s easier for cameras to read to save money on lost tolls and fines.
In its proposed budget for the coming year, released Monday (Oct. 15, 2012) and set for approval by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet later this month, the agency says it wants lawmakers to approve the use of more than $23 million in various existing fees to buy new plates with a goal of replacing all plates within two years.
The agency will present its budget proposal at the Oct. 23 Cabinet meeting. Agencies had to make their budget requests public by Monday.
The request wouldn’t include any new spending – the money already comes into the agency’s trust fund through tag renewals and other fees, but legislative approval is needed to change how it is spent.
One of the key reasons the state wants to replace the plates is to reduce lost tolls, which are increasingly collected by mail after cameras read plates.
The redesign is expected to increase collection of tolls by $4.8 million, according to the agency’s agenda for the next Cabinet meeting. “This number is expected to grow as open road tolling expands,” the agency’s agenda says.
In the first three months of this year more than 600,000 vehicles per month went through toll booths and couldn’t be billed because a camera couldn’t read the plate number. That’s about 10 percent of the vehicles going through the booths.
The state also has to spend money for people to read the plates the cameras can’t read.
Public safety is also part of the equation.
“The improved fonts and the simplistic graphic will also improve readability for the human eye, thereby improving the accuracy of information provided to and used by law enforcement,” the agency’s recently-released study on the redesign idea says. “These changes improve toll enforcement and red light enforcement, but also serve as an important safety initiative for law enforcement and all drivers on Florida’s roads.”
The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles last week released proposed designs for the new plate. Little noticed when they did: the new plate has seven characters instead of the current six.
The reason, Math – more plates mean we need more numbers.
“Due to limitations in design and manufacturing methods, Florida is within a few years of running out of unique six character combinations on its license plates,” the DHSMV says in its legislative budget request documents. “A redesign that results in a different manufacturing method… could result in the ability to use character configurations not currently available as well as the addition of a seventh character, thus resulting in millions of new configurations.”
If the plan moves forward as expected, it would mean replacing more than 10 million plates.
In its budget documents, the department says it has begun developing information to go out to possible bidders for creating the plate, and that actual project costs could vary after bids come in.