State license system to be updated

Published 7:00 am Friday, August 21, 2015

Due in part to the confusion of law enforcement in other states, the Mississippi Department of Revenue is working toward improving its car tag system, which has remained unchanged for the past 35 years.

Recently, law enforcement in other states have stopped some Mississippi drivers for driving stolen vehicles when, in fact, they were not but their license plates were being misread.

Kathy Waterbury, the department’s communications director, said the improvements will allow the department to communicate effectively with other states in regards to their vehicle tag policy.

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Waterbury said when the state of Mississippi reissued its vehicle tags several years ago, it caused several issues, including vehicle tag’s appearing as “stolen” to law enforcement agencies in other states.

“While it’s not as common anymore, we have made a few phone calls to let people in Mississippi know they don’t have a stolen plate,” Waterbury said.

Waterbury said the misunderstanding stems from the current system. When law enforcement officers run a Mississippi license tag, it typically displays two lines; the first line shows the previously issued tag, which featured the Biloxi lighthouse and the current tag, which displays B.B. King’s guitar.

Waterbury said law enforcement agencies in Mississippi are trained on the state’s vehicle tag procedures and know to pay attention to the second line.

“But officers in other states aren’t aware of that and often look at the first line, which makes it appear as if the car is stolen because the numbers on the tag don’t match up to the vehicle,” Waterbury said.

Pearl River County Tax Assessor/Collector Gary Beech said they’ve dealt with a handful of cases where motorists have been pulled over for driving what appears to be a “stolen tag.”

“The state reissued some numbers on these music-themed tags that were also used on the previous lighthouse tag. It’s not as much of a problem anymore because all lighthouse tags should be expired by now,” Beech said.

The department plans to implement the new system by July 2017, Waterbury said.

“We hope to have it done by then. This new system will allow us to pass along information and make it clear to other states so they understand how to read Mississippi tags,” Waterbury said.