California is a state crippled by debt. The situation is so desperate that it looks like California lawmakers are now considering a license plate led recovery. A bill proposed by Senator Curren D. Price Jr, D-Inglewood, gives the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) the authority to investigate the emerging Digital Electronic License Plate (DELP) technology that would enable rear license plates on vehicles to become message boards to display advertising or other images when the vehicle is stationary for periods longer than four seconds, such as at a stop light or in a traffic jam.

The bill, SB 1453, which passed without a dissenting vote on May 28, 2010, authorizes the DMV to partner with innovation companies for the purpose of researching, developing and implementing new DELP technology at no additional cost to the DMV or the State. It directs the DMV to submit an interim and final report to the Legislature on the utilization of digital electronic license plates with specified areas of discussion and to conduct “real world” trials to gather data on the ability for DELP technology to deliver cost savings, workflow efficiencies and revenue generation.

“State governments are facing unprecedented budget shortfalls, and are actively rethinking the use of existing state assets to create new ongoing revenue opportunities,” said Senator Price.

The Senator argues that adoption of this emerging technology could potentially bring significant benefits to the State of California and its taxpayers by realizing significant cost savings by using digital electronic license plate technology to streamline distribution, activation, and registration of license plates. The technology could also be used to broadcast critical real-time traffic and public information such as Amber alerts and emergency traffic updates to drivers

But it is its potential to generate revenue from advertising that could provide the real financial boon for the state. If approved the DMV would be able to charge private vehicle owners for the right to display commercial advertising or other images that would take personalized number plates into the 21st Century by displaying the insignia of a favorite sports team, for example.

Senator Price said there would be additional financial gains to be had by encouraging the development and engineering of digital electronic license plate technology in California. It create new jobs in technology, sales/marketing and service fields and these jobs could employ people having a broad range of educational and vocational skill levels, he said. The bill is being pushed by Bay-area company, Smart Plate, that is currently developing a digital license plate.

The bill requires the DMV to report to the Legislature by January 1, 2013 regarding the feasibility of a digital license plate program with research costs of about US$200,000 to be met by private vendors. One of the obvious questions that will need to be addressed is the obvious safety issues that could arise from drivers being distracted by the license plate of a car in front of them – not to mention all those prison inmates who will presumably be out of work.