Select Page

     Choice: “Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, (but) we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.” – “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz

I thought I was getting less done because I was getting older and slowing down.

There’s another reason.

Too many choices.

Whether it’s picking a type of breakfast cereal, TV program, or paint color, the number of choices is staggering.

And what about license plate options? It can be overwhelming.

It used to be that I could always tell which county a vehicle was from by its license plate. If it was “36,” chances were the driver was a Pierre resident, even though “36” was for all of Hughes County.  Same when some hunters drove down the gravel road near our old Lyman County farm house. If the pickup sported a “1” the guys wearing orange likely were from Sioux Falls (which for many farmers and ranchers meant keeping an eye on them).

Today, 42 percent of vehicle plates don’t start with a county number, which coincides with the explosion of choices. Personal plates, organization plates, and plates for military, disabled, historic – the list goes on. If you order a plate and want to add your organization’s emblem, there are more than 100 options just for that type of plate and they begin with a “W.”

The 80 different templates now available are still manufactured at Pheasantland Industries at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls. If you’re wondering how the prisoners can keep up with this avalanche of choices, their life became light years easier in 2006 when the process changed from pressing metal plates with raised numbers to digitally printing them by template. The process is so efficient that plates are printed daily on demand and sent out. For this, prisoners are paid 25 cents an hour to start and can double that over time.

But I digress.

License plate production in South Dakota is big business. The total cost of the 2016 plate re-issue was $6,006,391.54.

Even the state Legislature is affected. I counted dozens of bills this session that changed, tweaked or clarified statutes affecting license plates. Little wonder that the number of bills and resolutions introduced exceeded 600.

How does law enforcement keep track, or track down these hundreds of different identifying plates when the situation warrants?

“It is more of a challenge,” said Tony Mangan, spokesman for the Department of Safety.  “You have to remember all of the categories, and that takes time.”

More choices. More time needed to decide. We can all relate to that.

Feb. 28, 2018