California’s dramatic new license plate is hitting the streets — a digital display board that allows changeable messages controlled by the driver or remotely by fleet managers.
The new plates use the same computer technology as Kindle eBook readers, along with a wireless communication system.
The plates are being sold with their own computer chips and battery.
Motorists who choose to buy the plate can register their vehicles electronically and eliminate the need to physically stick tags on their plates each year. They also may be able to display personal messages — if the DMV decides to allow that.
If the car is stolen, the plate’s manufacturer says the plate can tell the owner and police exactly where the car is or at least where the license plate as if it has been detached.
California, which has been quietly prepping its roll-out this year, is the first state to try out the new plates.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles is conducting a pilot project with a Bay Area company, Reviver Auto, which makes the plate and is about to begin marketing it for sale at auto dealerships.
Last week, Sacramento became the first city to agree to test the plates, taking a shipment of 24 plates for its in-house vehicle fleet.
The technology comes with a high price, however, and has already prompted questions about privacy and safety.
The starting price of the plates is $699 at dealerships, installation costs not included. Also, users must pay a monthly fee of about $7. The plates are not available through the DMV
Some drivers are questioning whether the device’s communications system could allow the state, the police or private companies to track a driver’s movements.
The state Legislature gave the DMV the go-ahead to explore the new devices several years ago and ordered the department to report back by July 2020 about how the plates are performing.
Under the pilot program rules, the state can allow up to one-half of 1% of the state’s 35 million vehicles — or about 175,000 vehicles — to use the plates during the test period.
DMV officials last week said there are only 116 cars in the state with digital plates in use so far. But Reviver Auto expects that number to jump into the thousands this year as it gets known.
The testings are about to take place, in cooperation with Reviver Auto, on some fleet cars.