Once again, the real world moves faster than the world of South. Yesterday, California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that allows the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to start experimenting with electronic license plates. South Carolina and New Jersey have similar bills in progress.
California DMV will be able to place e-plates on up to 160,000 cars for the test period lasting through 2017. The bills were sold using the usual arguments – cost-savings and efficiency. DMV will be able to save a whopping $20 million a year on postage by not having to mail new registration stickers every year (out of a state general fund budget of ~$90 billion), and of course it’s supposed to mean shorter lines at DMV offices (at least until DMV workers get laid off because they won’t have to process registrations at the counter anymore).
However, the auto-update feature implies that DMV can find your vehicle at any time. If the update system uses the cellular network, then your car would need its own phone number to be addressed – which means you’ll be leaving a location trail as you drive around. The final bill was amended to include protections for location data during the pilot. But do you think those protections will stay in place when the program goes live in 2017? No, I don’t either.
A version of this bill introduced in 2010 included allowing the technology vendor to place ads on individual license e-plates. That’s gone for the pilot. As states become ever more strapped for cash, don’t be surprised if that prohibition goes away, too.
So of course, I had to put e-plates into South. I just finished the last round of revisions yesterday and locked the text block…at least, so I thought. Now Our Hero Luis has to deal with changing his car’s e-plates on the fly.
This led me to try to figure out how a full-fledged e-plate system would work. Would ads be placed based on the car’s registered address, or its current location? Would each state’s system be able to place ads on non-native cars passing through? How long before someone hacks the system? (Needless to say, Luis’ Cartel sponsors have that already figured out.) What happens if the car’s battery goes dead? Will car owners be able to put their own messages on their license plates?
Would you like an electronic license plate? How do you think this kind of system will work? If could put your own message on your plate, what would it be? Let me know in the comments.