- California will become the first state to test digital license plates that would allow drivers or fleet managers to change the display on a vehicle.
- The smart plates would also be able to wirelessly communicate with the Department of Motor Vehicles, allowing drivers to automatically and remotely update their registration, as well as enable authorities to track a stolen vehicle.
- Sacramento has accepted 24 plates for fleet vehicles. They will cost $699 each before installation costs, along with a monthly $7 fee.
The plates have obvious benefits: commercial vehicles could display advertisements when parked, and registrations could be taken care of with minimal trips to the DMV. Location tracking could also help improve emergency response, as location determination after an emergency call remains a barrier to quick response.
But the plates also carry concerns about privacy and security. Location tracking may make it easier to respond to a crash or find a stolen vehicle, but could also give the government the ability to track vehicles without legal justification. And such a system could be vulnerable to hackers, who could access drivers’ records and locations, or even change the display while someone is driving.
Given those concerns, Reviver Auto, the company making the smart plates, says fleets are the target customers — at least early on — since they have a vested interest in knowing where their vehicles are and are most likely to take advantage of the display for advertisements or even emergency signaling.
Dubai has also been testing the smart license plates, offering another opportunity to gather information on what works and how to avoid the obvious dangers. Given the high cost involved, wider adaptation may be slow. But as usage expands, many of the same privacy issues automakers face with connected and autonomous vehicles will also be a concern for the plate users. In addition these same issues could also arise as states explore vehicle miles traveled taxes that would rely on sensors to track how far and where drivers are going.