California’s Plan to Get Out of Debt: Digital License Plates


Guest post by Karen McCall of Washington Auto Insurance.

I can just imagine the meeting where this idea was thought up:

Suit One: “Can we stick ads on the back of people’s heads?”

Suit Two: “I’m pretty sure that’s harassment.”

Suit One: “Wait! I’ve got it. We’ll stick them on license plates! That’ll be even more distracting!”

You have to give California points for creativity. Hoping to increase revenue, the California legislature is considering a bill that would allow the DMV to give out…wait for it…digital license plates. I know what you’re thinking: “They sound so futuristic! Does that mean I’ll have changing colors on the back bumper of my Honda Accord? One second it’s the California Flag, the next second it’s the Hollywood sign?”


These digital license plates will basically be mini versions of those revolving billboards we pass on the way to work. When the car is stopped for four or more seconds (stoplights, stop signs, those darn bike riders) the license plates will feature advertisements. While the car is in motion, the license plate will display the numbers/letters like usual. Even when it’s in “ad mode”, the car’s license number will still be visible in the corner. But not big enough to take attention away from the Tide logo. No, sir.

I can’t help but feel wary about this idea. Mostly because we live in a world where we can’t make the commute to work without checking our email on our Blackberry at least three times. That’s distracting enough. But add flashing ads for Trojan condoms on the back of every car? Those are fender benders waiting to happen. Unless of course California allows the cars hazard lights to also blink the new face of Gucci once an accident occurs, then we are in business!

“It’s not all for money!” the powers behind the digital license plates insist. They also claim it could be used for Amber alerts, as well as traffic information. I get my traffic news a different way. When I merge onto the 405, I look at the line of cars taking up every lane and then hang my head and sigh. That’s how California drivers do it! How will a traffic alert on the back of someone’s vehicle help by telling me what I already know? If I’m stuck in traffic, I don’t need to see “Newsflash! LA traffic sucks!” on the bumper in front of me.

Although, I would prefer the traffic info to the ads. The last thing I want to see is a giant SUV cut me off with a license plate that says: “Bounty: the quicker picker upper!” I guess I could get a quick text into my boyfriend to pick up paper towels before I rear end the dude.