Digital license plates finally hit the road in California

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Five years after California governor Jerry Brown signed legislation authorizing digital license plates to be sold in his state, the new-fangled digital display boards are finally hitting the streets. According to The Sacramento Bee, the new plates began rolling out this week, and unsurprisingly, they don’t come cheap.

Motorists who choose to buy the digital plates can register their vehicles electronically and eliminate the need to physically stick tags on their license plates each year, which could save the state money. The digital plates come with their own computer chips, batteries, and wireless communication systems. They also may be able to display personal messages — if the DMV decides to allow that.

Dealerships are expected to sell the plates for an eye-popping $699, not including installation costs. Users also must pay a monthly fee of about $7. The plates are not available through the Department of Motor Vehicles. At present, digital plates are only permitted on the rear of the vehicle. California also requires front plates, so owners still must mount a standard plate there.

A spokesperson for the DMV said there are only 116 vehicles with digital plates currently. Under the pilot, the department must report back to the state legislature by July 2020 about how the plates are performing. “The purpose of the pilot is to identify and detail potential benefits, so we are still in the evaluation phase and won’t make any determinations until the pilot concludes,” the spokesperson added.

Bay Area company Reviver Auto is the sole contractor on the pilot. The firm makes the plate, and it’s beginning to market it for sale at auto dealerships. Later this year, digital plates are also expected to roll out in Florida, Arizona, and Texas.

Neville Boston, founder of Reviver Auto, told the Bee he expects initial interest to come from companies for their vehicle fleets:

Some businesses will use them as mini-billboards to advertise their products or services, he said, but will be able to do so only when the vehicle is stopped. The license plate number will still appear on the screen when messages pop up, but it will be smaller and tucked into the upper right corner of the screen.

As with all new technology, cybersecurity and hacking are a concern. While the ability to track a vehicle’s location using the plate’s wireless communication system may be ideal for fleet owners, individual drivers may balk at the idea. The DMV spokesperson deferred questions about privacy to Reviver Auto. We’ll update this story when we hear back from the company.

By: Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge

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