License plate proposal aims at child safety

By Paul E. Kandarian, Globe Correspondent | November 27, 2005

He saw the news in June 2000, when 16-year-old Molly Bish was abducted
from Comins Pond in Warren, where she worked as a lifeguard. Her remains
were found three years later, 5 miles from her home.

Then, in 2002, Elizabeth Smart, a Salt Lake City teenager, was abducted
from her bedroom as her parents slept in the next room. She was held
hostage for nine months.

”This all had a profound effect on me,” said Richard, 52, sitting at his
home on Bass Rocks Road in Gloucester. ”When the Liz Smart story hit,
the other shoe dropped. I said to myself, I had to do something about

So Richard, a businessman and inventor in the semiconductor industry,
created the EZ-ID License Plate Program, a system that would replace the
current six-character plates found on most Massachusetts cars with
luminescent plates that use one symbol and no more than three numbers or

Molly’s Law, which is now before the Legislature, would roll out
Richard’s system over five years, replacing existing plates as they come
due for registration. The bill was written by state Senator Bruce Tarr,
Republican of Gloucester, and is being pushed on the House side by
Representative Anthony J. Verga, Democrat of Gloucester. It could be
acted on when the Legislature reconvenes in January, Tarr said.

”The bad guys don’t take the bus, they use private vehicles,” Richard
said. ”I wanted to do something to make the vehicle more identifiable
and this could be a deterrent. If not, it can help in recovery. If we
don’t get the guy on the highway, we’re knocking on his door.”

The program is supported by the Bish and Smart families, said Richard,
who is father to two adult sons. Both families have stayed in his home,
he said, and believe the plan should be implemented nationwide.

The Massachusetts license plate system uses letters and numbers, with a
possible 1.8 billion combinations. If Molly’s Law passes, each plate
would have a symbol, like a star, triangle, or diamond, he said, and the
three letters or numbers would be bigger and far easier to read and
remember. Even in the rearview mirror, the symbol would be recognizable.
The possible combinations would more than cover the nearly five million
registered cars in Massachusetts, Richard said.

Identifying just the car color with the plate symbol and just one
character would give authorities a one in 123 chance of identifying the
vehicle under the EZ-ID system, Richard said. Getting the car color and
one character in a six-character plate reduces those odds to one in more
than five million, he said.

Molly’s Law carries a provision to make the new plates photo-luminescent.
The numbers and symbol would glow in the dark, making it easier to read
even if the car’s lights are shut off. Richard is founder of Sun-Up
Productions in Danvers, which creates luminescent products.
The plates could glow up to 54 hours in complete darkness, he said. The
added benefit of glowing plates would be in helping authorities find cars
used in other crimes or hit-and-run accidents.

There would be about 15 stock symbols and a possible 15 others that can
be bought under a vanity system that could generate at least $20 million
a year for the state. If more vanity symbols are offered, revenue would
increase, Richard said. The money could be earmarked for child-safety and
awareness programs, Richard said. Existing low-number, vanity, and other
specialty plates, such as those bearing the symbols of the right whale
and Boston Red Sox, would not be replaced since they are already easily

The cost of retooling machinery in state prisons where plates are made
would be about $140,000, he said. It would be necessary to rework various
computer systems in the state and nationwide to accommodate the new
license plate program, he said. The new plates would cost an extra 50
cents to $1, Richard said, noting that any additional cost would be
offset by the millions expected to be generated by motorists buying
special symbol vanity plates.

The day before her daughter went missing, Magi Bish said, she had dropped
Molly off at work early in the morning and spotted a suspicious man
nearby standing near a white car, smoking a cigarette. She felt uneasy
and stuck around until he left, not wanting to leave Molly alone in the
area with him.
The next day, Molly disappeared. Since then, not a day has gone by, it
seems, that Magi Bish hasn’t seen a white car and wondered.

”Without intending to, I’d be heading to the dentist or some place and
would see a white car and turn around and follow it, frightened that this
could be the person in the area,” she said. ”And trying to remember a
license plate can be hard. You could be in a traumatic state, or you
might not have a pen and paper.”

Time is of the essence in child abductions, Richard said. According to
the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 74 percent of
abducted children who are murdered are killed within three hours of their

”Absolutely no one has said this is a bad idea,” Tarr said. ”The
concerns are more logistical, it’s a huge undertaking to change every
plate in Massachusetts [except existing low-number and vanity plates]. I
think the biggest problem is inertia, the force it takes to overcome a
system that has existed for a very long time.”

But, he said, it is a new way that ”can have a dramatic impact on public
safety. The Bishes can give a concrete example of how this would have
made a difference and possibly saved a life.”

The State Police and the Registry of Motor Vehicles declined to comment
on pending legislation.

”This is a great thing,” said Dan Moniz, a volunteer who represents the
state at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. ”Couple
this with the Amber Alert and there’s a very good chance we’ll get the
person who abducted a child.”

Amber Alert is a system that immediately notifies the public of missing
children through a variety of broadcasts and highway signs.

Robert Barry, a Weymouth police officer and president of the
Massachusetts Safety Officers League, said Richard’s system ”will save
children’s lives.”

”There are not a lot of things we as officers see that can actually help
children,” Barry said. ”This is a new tool that is powerful. Just the
fact that it makes a predator’s car more identifiable can be a deterrent.”

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

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