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State Assembly Debates the Use of Digital License Plates

Posted on in Personal Injury

With a budget crisis of monumental proportions in California and an electorate and state assembly unwilling to consider significant tax increases, innovative means of addressing the budget deficit are in high demand. One innovation that the state legislature is considering is the use of electronic license plates that flash advertisements when a vehicle is stopped for more than 4 seconds.

Users of the electronic plates would receive a gas credit of $12 per month. In San Diego, there are already thousands of drivers who display ads on their vehicles in exchange for the gas credit, and more are apparently signing on each month.

The state would also benefit from the sale of the plates. Advertisers would contract with the DMV, potentially creating a huge new revenue stream. Supporters point out that this could also cut the cost of distribution, activation and registration of license plates.

Unlike personalized "vanity" license plates, however, the ads raise concerns because of the distraction factor. Drivers are already putting themselves and other motorists at risk with the use of cell phones and texting while driving, so adding another distraction could decrease driver and road safety even more. Law enforcement would also have to be able to identify the license number of the vehicle while the advertisement is flashing.

Other critics point out the potential for governmental invasion of privacy if the state can place electronic devices in vehicles that would inevitably enable law enforcement to identify vehicles instantly or even track their location at any time. Furthermore, some question whether drivers could be stopped, detained or even cited if their digital plates malfunction and obscure their license numbers.

Advocates point out that the plates would have the added advantage of flashing Amber Alerts or traffic information during emergencies, as well as enabling users to display their own personalized messages, favorite sports teams or schools. Presumably, the driver's message could be readily changed when he or she tired of the old one, adding additional revenue for the state.

It remains to be seen if driver safety would be compromised with the use of the digital plates. As with any innovation, the distraction factor might fade as the novelty wears off. Still, it would create a distraction, and its effect on driver safety would have to be assessed to determine if safety is significantly affected.

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