A Massachusetts lawmaker is taking action with a proposed fix to the headaches caused by license plate confusion.
The response comes in the wake of a series of NBC10 Boston Investigators reports, which showed how frustrated drivers experienced bogus tolls and phantom tickets.
“What’s always scared me after seeing your stories is we don’t know how big the problem is,” said Rep. William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who chairs the Joint Committee on Transportation.
Straus said his biggest concern is public safety. He points to stories like the Nahant driver who was falsely accused of a hit-and-run accident because her plate had the same numeric sequence as a commercial plate.
“Having the most accurate license plate system is critical to the work law enforcement does,” Straus said.
The lawmaker has grown impatient with the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ insistence that there are “no duplicate plates” on the roads. The agency has told NBC10 Boston that alphabetic prefixes and other features on specialty plates help set them apart.
However, it’s clear that similar license plates are getting mixed up by toll-enforcing plate readers, traffic cops or eyewitnesses.
As a result, Straus has filed legislation that would order the RMV to stop issuing different plates with the exact same horizontal alpha-numeric sequence.
In other words, if there’s a standard low-number “1234” plate, then there couldn’t also be a “1234” specialty plate for sports teams, charities or a branch of the military.
A Harvard stats professor previously illustrated to NBC10 Boston how there are plenty of available combinations to avoid duplicates.
“We can stop issuing duplicate plates immediately in my view,” Straus said. “I hope the legislature does what we are expected to do which is to fix a public safety problem.”
The legislation would also require the RMV to search its database and notify all drivers who have similar plates to another vehicle. Those drivers would have an option to exchange the plate for a new one, free of charge.
A hearing is expected within the month.
A spokeswoman for the RMV said the agency will carefully review any legislation that reaches the Governor’s desk. The RMV is also in the process of replacing its 33-year-old computer system, an upgrade that’s expected to be complete in November.