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Roadscapes Wednesday: The Electronic License Plate


Every car on the road has a license plate attached to the back and sometimes the front as well.  The license plate is often decorated from the state they live in with something in that state.  For example, in Alabama, the license plate is beach themed until 2014.

Now, California and South Carolina could be the first states to start using an electronic license plate.  The electronic license plate would be made out of an electronic paper and would have a tiny lithium battery charged by the vibrations of the car.  Cell phone towers would update the license plate when you go to the DMV like to renew your license plate.  And if the car is stolen, or if the license is expired, or if the car is uninsured, big letters would appear on the license plate to inform everyone on the road.  If the license plate is involved in a kidnapping, the words Amber Alert would flash on the plate as well.

It costs the states a lot of money to manufacture the license plates for all drivers and the states are looking for ways to save millions of dollars.  The electronic license plate can last for up to 10 years and you would not have to print those stickers you stick onto your license plate.  This technology is very cool and it would be easy to use.  But there’s one problem, could the electronic license plate be tracked?

Just like the debate over having all cars being forced to install a GPS tracking device to track how many miles the car drives for road tax purposes.  The electronic license plate must rely on cell phone towers to be updated which means it could be tracked.  The DMV says they do not have the power to track the license plates and police will not have any methods to track the license plates either.  But you can bet the hackers will somehow find a way to track some of the electronic license plates and even change the license plates so a current driver would have the words stolen on the license plate when the driver is up to date.

Could states also use the electronic license plate for advertisers?  I hope not, because we suffer through enough advertising already.  And it could be a distraction on the highway.  Yes, I do believe all states will eventually use electronic license plates.  The electronic paper will get better, and the technology will improve.  States like California and South Carolina are about to start pilot programs to test out the electronic license plates.  I am sure the electronic license plates are going to suffer through the abuse of everyday driving.  So there is going to be more testing and changes to the electronic paper.  It’s going to be a while before all drivers start using them, so you don’t have to throw away your aluminum license plates yet!

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