COLUMBIA — For years, South Carolina temporary license plates affixed to newly purchased vehicles were thin pieces of paper adorned with an expiration date written in marker.
For police engaged in traffic stops, it meant not knowing anything about the driver or vehicle — a dangerous proposition that lawmakers and Gov. Henry McMaster sought to change.
In 2018, the General Assembly approved a measure requiring those 45-day tags be tied directly to a vehicle’s owner through an alphanumeric code.
State Department of Motor Vehicle branches begin issuing the updated tags on Tuesday.
The phase-in period was included so dealerships had enough time to modernize computer systems ahead of the deadline.
SCDMV Executive Director Kevin Schwedo called the provision a "milestone."
"No longer will law enforcement officers be, essentially, blind when approaching vehicles that are only marked with a hand-written date and piece of paper," he said. "The accountability that now lies with dealers and consumers will keep more people in our state safe.”
DMV officials said the last of South Carolina’s old paper tags should be out of circulation by Christmas.
The law also affects those who buy a vehicle from an individual instead of a dealership. In those cases, new owners must take a signed title to the DMV to acquire their traceable plate.
State Sen. Paul Campbell, a Goose Creek Republican and transportation committee member, co-sponsored the legislation.
“We have to do that. There’s too many temporary tags in this state. You can print one up at a print shop somewhere or find one that somebody else has discarded and change the date on it, and just keep on driving,” he said.
In addition to giving law enforcement more information on traffic stop subjects, Campbell said eliminating the paper tags also hampers the ability for uninsured drivers to remain on the road.
“People will put a temporary tag on because they don’t have insurance, and we can’t allow for those kinds of things,” he said. “We need to have a more permanent type of plate so it’s traceable.”