Electronic licence plates may show ads

As electronic highway billboards flashing neon advertisements become more prevalent, the next frontier in distracted driving is already approaching - licence plates displaying digital advertising.

The California Legislature is considering a Bill that would allow the state to begin researching the use of electronic licence plates for vehicles. The move is intended as a moneymaker for a state facing a $US19 billion deficit.

The device would mimic a standard license plate when the vehicle is in motion, but it would display digital advertisements or other messages when the vehicle has stopped for more than four seconds, whether in traffic or at a red light.

The license plate number would remain visible at all times in some section of the screen.

In emergencies, the plates could be used to broadcast alerts or traffic information.

The Bill's author, Democratic Senator Curren Price of Los Angeles, said California would be the first state to implement such technology if the state Department of Motor Vehicles ultimately recommends the widespread use of the plates.

He said other states were exploring similar ideas. 

Interested advertisers would contract directly with the DMV, opening a new revenue stream for the state, Price said.

"We're just trying to find creative ways of generating additional revenues," he said. "It's an exciting marriage of technology with need, and an opportunity to keep California in the forefront."

At least one company, San Francisco-based Smart Plate, is developing a digital electronic licence plate, but that has not reached the production stage yet.

The Bill would authorize the DMV to work with Smart Plate or another company to explore the use and safety of electronic licence plates.

The company's chief executive, M. Conrad Jordan, said he envisioned the licence plates as more than a source of advertising venue.

They would allow motorists display personalised messages, such as their allegiance to a sports team or an alma mater.

"The idea is not to turn a motorist's vehicle into a mobile billboard, but rather to create a platform for motorists to show their support for existing good working organisations," he said.

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