Originally created 02/11/02

Tags personalize cars, support state programs



ATHENS, Ga. - Concerned about the declining bobwhite quail population in Georgia, Mike Burns went out Friday and did what he could to help. He bought a new Georgia license plate.

Mr. Burns' new tag, emblazoned with the image of the bobwhite, is one of more than 100 specialty tags now available in Georgia and is one of five new tags the state Department of Motor Vehicle Safety is issuing, including four to honor veterans.

Like many specialty tags, the bobwhite tag can be purchased for a fee in addition to the standard $20 tag fee and ad valorem tax.

For Mr. Burns, it's important that the one-time fee of $15 helps fund projects that aim to preserve bobwhite habitats.

"I like contributing to something that I'll get something back," said Mr. Burns, a quail hunter. "Now the quail just need more help than other things."

Even as additional tags become available, however, a new crop of specialty plates may be just over the horizon. Within the last month, a handful of bills proposing new designs has been thrown into the hopper at the Georgia General Assembly - among them tags promoting pet sterilization, breast cancer awareness and the Boy Scouts.

Specialty tags already available promote everything from Georgia universities to alternative fuel. They can cost as much as $50 extra.

While some tags are designed to raise money for certain interest groups, others come at no additional cost but carry eligibility requirements such as those for veterans, teachers and students.

"A lot of the times, the tags are free but people just choose them for recognition," said Mitch Schrader, the deputy tax commissioner for Athens-Clarke County.

In cases where there is an extra fee for a specific tag and the money does not go to a special interest group, the fees go back to the state to help pay for tag production.

Despite the pleasure some drivers find in choosing a tag that individualizes their vehicle, the variety of tag designs has been known to make it difficult for police to identify vehicles, according to Lt. Joe Walter of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.

"The more uniform something is, the more obvious it is that something is out of place," Lt. Walter said. "It's difficult to know all the plates."

Police dispatchers, who often need to run checks on people's license plates for officers on the road, have also experienced occasional problems with finding the same license number on a different specialty tag.

"Sometimes, we just call the tag number in and hope for the best," Lt. Walter said.

Despite occasional misunderstandings over the specialty plates, Lt. Walter said police have learned to work with the new tags. For many, the new plates provide an opportunity to show the pride that many have as veterans, students and in protecting the environment.