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California lawmakers consider license plates that flash ads

Motorists are used to seeing digital billboards that flash ads. But is the California Legislature's flirtation with license plate ads a bad sign?

That’s what some motorists are saying as a state Assembly committee toys with the idea of issuing digital license plates would turn the backs of cars into miniature billboards.

Lawmakers are being asked to launch a feasibility study to determine if the advertising revenue from millions of electronic license plates would help close the state's $19-billion deficit. In addition to being a moneymaker, the high-tech plates also could be used to streamline automobile registration procedures and to quickly tell motorists about hazardous road conditions and Amber Alerts, officials suggest.

Critics warn, however, that the ads would distract drivers and add to a growing clutter of roadside digital billboards, freeway message boards and other intrusive signage. Some also fear that the computerized equipment that would control the advertising could be hacked and hijacked by vandals intent on posting rogue messages.

Backers of the advertising idea say the digital plates could be programmed to display the ads only after an auto has been stopped for four seconds. The car's license plate number would be visible in small type at the corner of the plate when ads are being displayed, they say. The ads would disappear and the plate  numbers would be shown when the car was moving.

"It does offer some interesting possibilities," said state Sen. Curren Price (D-Inglewood), who introduced Senate Bill 1453, which calls for the study. The measure was passed in late May by a unanimous Senate vote and is scheduled to be taken up by the Assembly’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

Price said he proposed the study after learning of newly emerging technology that can create digital license plates. The review will be conducted by the Department of Motor Vehicles, with the help of other agencies such as the California Highway Patrol. So far, he has heard from several companies that are developing the digital devices, Price said.

One such firm is San Francisco-based Smart Plate Corp., described as a three-person start-up headquartered in a house in a hilly residential neighborhood. Company officials could not be reached for comment, although one of its principals has described the digital plates as similar to personalized license plates that the state sells as a revenue-generator.

In addition to commercial advertising, the plates could also be used for personal statements, such as support for sports teams or colleges, according to company Chief Executive M. Conrad Jordan. Some motorists say there are plenty of questions for the proposed feasibility study to answer. Tech blogs have lit up in recent days with dire warnings from commentators ridiculing the idea.

The plates "will have to be wireless, which will entail a statewide wireless network" that is open to hacking, wrote one. "Imagine all the license plates at once displaying porn or something."

Another person warned that the technology could end up registering the number of miles motorists drive, clearing the way for state officials "to tax you based on when and where you drive." Others have suggested a rear-end collision could wipe out a car's license plate number and expressed alarm that a digital plate on a parked car might drain the vehicle's battery.

One person warned that the technology could be used to flash the word "violation" to police the moment the car's registration expires.

Price said officials will address those issues and create safeguards to protect the digital plates' "integrity" before authorizing the issuance of any new plates. Guidelines for advertising content, the feasibility of do-it-yourself messaging and the possibility of sharing ad revenue with automobile owners will also be studied.

-- Bob Pool

Photo: Techi

Comments () | Archives (51)

It's unethical. I don't care how far in debt the state is, I'm not your employee or ad spokesman. If you want me displaying ads for you, you better first give me a choice, and if I say yes, give me the majority of the money earned from it.

Wow, i can't believe they're even wasting our money studying the idea! Have theses officials ever driven in L.A. ? I can't wait to be rear ended by some idiot trying to read my license plate!

You have enough problems with people talking on the phone while they drive, now what kind of problems are you going to have when people take their eyes off the road to read license plates.

Get Real.

This boarders on moron thinking. What they call themselves, " The legislature"? I call it Moron thinking.

Stupid idea.

How long do I have to wait to report a speeding/drunk driver - do I have to wait for the yahoo ad to be over?

What if you travel out of state - do you no longer get your license plate number showing up because the signal ends at the state border.

If there's a blackout? Everyone driving around plateless.

God what a dumb idea.

ok these lawmakers need to take a huge pay cut...they sit there and think of stuff like this to fix their mis-spendings...ads on a car really? i cant wait to see the lawsuit on that for selling ad space on a personal vehicle, u can count me in for that class action, will that add or help the budget? Maywood losing a police force and a local CSU cut their activities to make up for budget. Com'on really? ad space on MY CAR?

How will this pass First Amendment? The State will force me to convey its message just so I can drive my car? This whole concept is wrong from the word "go."

That settles it, our assembly is nuts. Three CHP officers killed and a fourth injured just this month by inattentative drivers...and they want moving billboards? This is nothing short of criminal. To even allow it to come up for discussion shows how "out of touch" they really are.

Our legislators must have lost their minds!

Billboards, bumper stickers, window stickers, personalized plates, and cell phones, apparently aren't enough of a distraction and annoyance. There is enough advertising being forced upon us all the time to make our heads spin. Enough is enough!

Cars do not belong to the state, but to us individually. How dare they try to foist us to advertise on our personal property so the state can make money.

I say vote all these idiots out!

Seriously, technology developed after 1980 is pointless. I want a do over.

This is the worst idea I've ever heard. Lawmakers must be more than desperate -- they're insane. Safety is the least of their concerns.

What about people who would be offended by the type of ads created on their vehicle? What about people who would be offended that they would become any type of advertisement? What about opting out? What about all the people who buy personalized license plates? What about the cost of the digital equipment? What about the cost of our mental health from being bombarded by ads 24/7?

This would be the straw that broke the state's back. I would move out of state. That's how offense this idea is.

The person who thought up this idea should have a flashing light that reads "Idiot" welded onto their skull, front and back.

stupid, stupid idea

So, if I'm a distributor for Pepsi and the state puts a Coke ad on my car when I pull up to a business to make a sale, you think I WON'T SUE over that? You think I won't WIN THE SUIT?

What a bad idea!

This idea is assinine! Aren't we supposed to be paying attention to the road!!! Might as well text and put on make-up too!

Earth to Assembly: BAD IDEA!

This multi-car pile-up has been brought to you by, "Listerine."

Marijuana & Marijuana tourism. Why go to Amsterdam. Lets legalize, and call LA Los Amsterdam.

Marijuana = Billions of $$$

uuhhh..no freakin' way is this going to work.

This is hilarious ... Desperation kicks in. But, hey, if it works -- why not?

I think there are a few people in Sacramento that have been smoking dope.

Guess what is going to happen. Someone will sell a hacker kit.
The result, at a flip of a switch your plate does the ad while you are running
that red light.

Or, since these things are all going to be wireless, at signal you will suddenly
have everyone's license plate become the same as the ID of some guy who's
vehicle is up for an amber alert.

In any case, unless they put this to a vote of the people, and it passes by a 2/3
vote, it will be challenged as a tax since they are stealing electricity from the
cars to run it.

Why would anyone need to study an idea this bad? This is pouring money down the drain. Last time I checked we weren't exactly rolling in cash. Speaking of which, what is the cost?

I'll go for it as soon as politicians are required to wear labels which boldly display their corporate sponsors.

What a complete joke.

The ONLY good thing I could see is at least it would keep people looking at the vehicle in front of them.

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