South Carolina’s license plates featuring a sunrise will begin to sunset as early as 2018, The State has learned.
“It’s out of here,” S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles director Kevin Shwedo said of the state’s 7-year-old tag, which some drivers dislike because it appears to have Clemson University’s school colors.
The state agency will roll out new plates over the next six years with a standard template used for all 4.2 million state tags — even plates that, for an extra fee, promote colleges, professions and social causes.
The new plates will have a white background with black numbers and letters, and "South Carolina" written across the bottom in black lettering.
Distinctive accent coloring now used in special plates, such as garnet for the University of South Carolina or yellow for fans of musician Jimmy Buffett, will no longer be included. Those plates can cost up to an extra $75 every two years in addition to the standard $24 fee.
The new tags will have color emblems — the palmetto tree and crescent moon from the state flag or college logos. The emblems will go to the left of the plate’s identification numbers and letters.
All plates will be topped with red and blue stripes with wording between in black lettering.
On special plates, the name of the college, organization or cause will be written between the stripes. The state also will continue to offer a plate that says “In God We Trust,” Shwedo said.
Motor Vehicles has not decided what phrase to print on standard tags, used by about of half of the state’s 4.2 million registered vehicles.
“People get very, very emotional with what you put on there,” Shwedo said.
The agency is considering the state motto, “Dum spiro spero,” or its translation from Latin, “While I breathe, I hope,” after some test marketing, Shwedo said.
The agency weighed other phrases, including the state’s current tourism slogan, “Just Right,” and a phrase pushed by Gov. Nikki Haley, “It’s a great day in South Carolina.”
“From a personality standpoint, I love it,” Shwedo said of Haley’s catchphrase, “because I personally believe I set the conditions for myself and all those people that work with me for a great day.
“But I also am not stupid enough to think that people wouldn’t lose their minds” if the plates included a phrase favored by the Republican governor, said Shwedo, who was appointed by Haley. “My intent is not to do anything that’s going to alienate anybody.”
South Carolina last changed its license plates in 2008 but not without controversy.
Some drivers said the 2008 tags, featuring a sunrise sky, included Clemson’s school colors of purple and orange. They said the deep blue used for the tag’s palmetto tree, moon and hills looked purple, while a portion of the sky was orange.
Shwedo’s main complaint with the current tag is that the background is too dark to read plate numbers. “How do you see this at night?”
Standardizing all of the state’s plates, even the special ones, would make S.C. tags more easily identifiable to motorists and law enforcement, the S.C. Sheriffs’ Association and S.C. Department of Public Safety said.
Motor Vehicles offers about 170 special plates on its website. Some have completely different colors, including green and pink, while others have ornate designs with animals.
“Creating a more uniform plate where the number will be readily accessible and in the same location on all plates will be helpful to troopers,” said Sherri Iacobelli, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety. “Because there is no current uniformity to the design of the specialty plates, officers have to search for the identifying information in different locations on each special license plate.”
The price to change all the state’s license plates, an estimated $45 million, will be covered by a $2 fee that motorists pay every two years with their vehicle registration, Shwedo said.
For standard tags, the changeover could start as early in 2018, Shwedo said.
Some special plates already have adopted the new templates. For instance, plates issued to state lawmakers this year have the new look.
Starting in May, college and military special plates will switch over to the new appearance over the next year, Shwedo said. The state will change other special plates over the next six years.
Souvenir license plates proposed
In addition to changing the license plates on the back of cars, the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles wants to offer souvenir tags to go on front bumpers.
Motor Vehicles is working with lawmakers on a bill to allow souvenir tags that drivers could buy benefiting organizations. The souvenir tag would look like the state’s new white plates and could be personalized if the proposal becomes law.
Prices have not been announced. One-time fees for the plates would be split between Motor Vehicles and the sponsoring organizations – generating more money for the state and the group, agency director Kevin Shwedo said.
The bill also would allow drivers to buy personalized special license plates, such as a Citadel tag with the word “Bulldogs” or a saltwater-fishing plate with the word “Bait.”
A House panel approved the souvenir tags Wednesday.