California considers digital ads on car license plates

Because drivers are devoting way too much of their attention to the task at hand

CA license plate

The California Legislature, apparently oblivious to the scourge of distracted driving and struck daft by a $19 billion budget deficit, has approved a detailed study of a proposal that could transform license plates on the state's 30 million-plus automobiles into miniature billboards.

From an Associated Press story in the San Jose Mercury News yesterday:

The device would mimic a standard license plate when the vehicle is in motion but would switch to digital ads or other messages when it is 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.

(2010's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries)

The bill's author, Democratic Sen. 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 are exploring something similar.

Interested advertisers would contract directly with the DMV, thus 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."

Actually, it's an exciting marriage of technology and twisted car bumpers.

But let's say this idea takes flight and starts earning the state serious coin; a few questions spring to mind:

Who would decide what messages are appropriate and inappropriate? (I nominate the same people who make those calls for Apple's apps store.)

How long before voluntary becomes mandatory?

And who's going to break that news to the Privacy Police?

As for reaction to the mere idea, here's a sample:

From a reader of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Forget license plates, they're too small. Let's just make the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges giant advertisements instead. They're big, visible for miles, and large enough lettering will be easy to read everywhere. Better yet, let's paint all the sidewalks in downtown SF and Oakland with advertisements as well, and start skinning the buildings with ads like Tokyo and in Blade Runner.

A Slashdotter foresees possible trouble for law enforcement:

Policeman to bystander. "So, the bank robbers were driving a black sedan and you aren't sure of the make or year because all cars look alike nowadays? I don't suppose you got the license number?"

Bystander. "Sure. It was 'WALMART ROLLS BACK PRICES'".

And this Chronicle editorial just calls it "one of the kookier ideas of the (legislative) session ...)

The good news is that the California Department of Motor Vehicles has until 2013 to get back to the Legislature with its findings regarding how this cockamamie scheme might unfold if approved.

That should be plenty of time for the idea to be hooted off the highway.

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