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California’s dramatic new license plate is hitting the streets — a digital display board that allows changeable messages controlled by the driver or remotely by fleet managers.
The new plates use the same computer technology as Kindle eBook readers, along with a wireless communication system.
They come with their own computer chips and battery.
Motorists who choose to buy the plate can register their vehicles electronically and eliminate the need to physically stick tags on their plates each year. They also may be able to display personal messages — if the DMV decides to allow that.
If the car is stolen, the plate's manufacturer says the plate can tell the owner and police exactly where the car is or at least where the license plate is if it has been detached.
Last week, Sacramento became the first city to agree to test the plates, taking a shipment of 24 plates for its in-house vehicle fleet.
The technology comes with a high price, however, and has already prompted questions about privacy and safety.
Dealerships are expected to sell the plates for $699, not including installation costs. Users also must pay a monthly fee of about $7. The plates are not available through the DMV.
Some drivers are questioning whether the device's communications system could allow the state, the police or private companies to track a driver's movements.
Some businesses will use them as mini-billboards to advertise their products or services, he said, but will be able to do so only when the vehicle is stopped. The license plate number will still appear on the screen when messages pop up, but it will be smaller and tucked into the upper right corner of the screen.
The city of Sacramento is about to begin testing the devices as well, in cooperation with Reviver Auto, on some fleet cars.
The city's innovation officer, Louis Stewart, said the city took shipment last week of 24 new Chevy Volts with the electronic plates. It got the plates at no cost from Reviver. City officials want to see whether the plates allow them to keep track of fleet vehicles more efficiently and inexpensively via electronic messaging.
Stewart said city officials will talk first with labor representatives about assurances that the city will not use the plate technology as a monitoring device on city employees.