How about an electronic license plate in the car in front of you that flashes ads while you sit at a traffic light or in heavy traffic?
California state Sen. Curren Price of Los Angeles has introduced a bill, SB 1453, that passed the California State Senate in May by a vote of 25 - 0 giving "the Department of Motor Vehicles the authority to investigate the emerging Digital Electronic License Plate (DELP) technology to understand its functionality, safety and administrative applications."
According to the text of SB 1453, "The department may consider the use and development of existing or emerging technologies for the creation of a digital electronic license plate for the purpose of generating revenue for the department and state."
This AP report says that if a vehicle stopped moving for more than 4 seconds, adverts would appear on the electronic plate (although the vehicle's license number would always appear somewhere on the plate). Other messages such as Amber Alerts or traffic information could be displayed as well.
The bill requires the DMV to submit a report to the California legislature by 1 January 2013 on its investigation into the feasibility of an electronic plate, including options for drivers to display and change the messages on the digital license plates as well as the security and reliability of using such plates.
Could a driver refuse to display ads that he or she disagrees with?
Sen. Price's press release quotes him as saying "This legislation provides a unique opportunity for California to work in partnership with some of the state’s most innovative enterprises to rethink how we can use our most basic assets to achieve greater efficiencies and cost savings, while generating new revenues for the state."
The AP report says that a San Francisco-based start-up company called Smart Plate "is developing a digital electronic license plate but has not yet reached the production stage."
Electronic license plates would be hacking bait for sure. But it also conjures up some other possibilities.
Say the state gets paid by the number of ads that are flashed per plate. In this case, revenue is tied to traffic congestion or the length of red lights. Would this create incentives for the state to increase the number of traffic signals, the length of red lights, or not to make roadway improvements to reduce traffic congestion?
And why stop at adverts on license plates to generate revenue? Why not make state legislators wear electronic billboards, too?
Update 01 July 2010:
Quoting from the story, Gov. Schwarzenegger said,
"The Legislature needs to focus on passing a budget that lives within our means instead of distracting drivers to raise revenues. This legislation will be vetoed if it reaches my desk."
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Price, naturally disagreed with the governor, again claiming that electronic license plates would not only generate needed revenue but create "thousands of jobs in California as this idea catches fire across the nation."
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.