Digital License Plates - Dumbest idea ever

So, I just read that Michigan is about to join California and Arizona in implementing ‘digital license plates’ - in which your plate is removed and replaced with an E-ink screen that is permanently connected to the government’s license service:

This is a solution in search of a problem. The use cases they’ve come up with are things like potentially displaying Amber Alerts, or changing the plate to ‘I’m stolen’ if the car is reported stolen.

For these great features you get to pay $599, plus a subscription fee of $5/month. Oh, and you get another piece of privacy invading tech you don’t need. You also have to change the battery every 5 years, which it’s not clear the end user can do.

The company will also helpfully handle your automatic registration renewals, but they’ll take a cut so your registration will probably go up.

The value to the car owner? As far as I can tell, zero. And using the thing to display messages strikes me as a safety hazard. I’ll bet your insurance would go up as well once the insurers realize a minor rear-ender will have $600 in costs added to it.

As for the ‘I’m stolen’ feature, that will be useful for as long as it takes the thief to remove the plate, which thieves do. And I’m betting that someone will make a programmable knock-off that criminals could use to change their plate number on the fly, making the problem worse and not better.

Anyone else think this is actually a good idea? To me, it sounds like a company came up with a way to rent-seek off the government, and came up with the uses afterwards, because they are lame.

This seems like it’s custom-designed to make it easier to break the law, because it has no other conceivable real use.

But hey, I’m sure James Bond could use one.

I’m in California, and it’s first time I’ve even heard of them. Sounds like another toy for people who like to add useless crap, like spinning rims, to their cars. Perfect that they’re showing the rap guy with a set of the plates. That’s the type of people, big on gaudy gestures, who’d be interested in them.

I don’t care – so long as they’re voluntary. I’d never get them.

Here’s another article (NYT paywall warning) about the same idea. One idea is to let companies display advertising when the car is parked and then to rebate some money back to the car owner.

Yes, right now the idea is expensive. But a lot of ideas like this are expensive initially but as the technology matures, they get cheaper and more benefits are identified. So let’s just wait and see. Maybe it’s a useless idea. Maybe it proves to be valuable.

The tech is cheap. There’s no reason they can’t bring it to <$100. The current model needs a battery, GPS, and wireless chip, but it wouldn’t need any of that if built in to the car–just a cheap screen. If the device meant not having to deal with registration stickers, etc., I’d go for it.

The real value is likely with commercial fleet vehicles, though. No need to move plates around as you rotate vehicles into and out of the fleet, just change a few settings to rearrange the registration. Again, probably not worth $500 or a significant monthly fee, but it makes sense at a certain price.

For now, it’s just a novelty. Someone at work had one; it’s eye-catching because it’s different. For some, that might be worth $500. A lot cheaper than a million other dumb things that people spend money on.

Not to interrupt the Two Minutes Hate but exactly how is this ‘privacy invading’?

GPS enabled, and connected to the Department of motor vehicles. The plate is also a location tracker.

Like that’s going to happen.

Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. It’s just one idea in the NYT article I linked to. Personally, I doubt it’s worth very much to let people advertise on you license plate. (How much money do people get for letting companies wrap their cars in advertising? This idea is going to be worth much less money.)

Vehicular privacy has been dead ever since automatic license plate reader tech became widespread. Besides, pretty much all new cars have GPS+wireless already. Law enforcement can already get that data with a warrant.

Yes, but now you are volunteering to give that data to them. And it’s real time data - they could use it to automatically flag you any time you speed for example. Also, they can disable your plate remotely.

Just wait until you have to get to work only to discover that your plate displays ‘Disabled’ because you let your stupid $5/mo fee lapse, or haven’t paid some fee to the government or are delinquent on your student loan or child support or something else the government thinks you should be but aren’t doing.

The ways in which this could be used nefariously greatly outweigh any legitimate uses. So we’ll probably all wind up with them eventually. Governments would love it - not just for tracking, but because it gives them a powerful lever of control.

How many people let their plates or driver’s license or insurance lapse for a while? Now, at 12:01 the day after somethjng expires they can remotely invalidate your plate. The temptation to use that for all sorts of compliance would be great.

If it’s only voluntary for those that want it, no problem, make it mandatory and I think I may sell my cars.

Ok, but today they can disable your car remotely. They can also use internal microphones to listen in on your conversations (at least if you have OnStar).

You’re already being tracked six ways from Sunday. If you want privacy, pass laws to protect it.

Advertising while your car is parked? That’s not gonna fly. The police (and meter maids) want to see your plates any time, anywhere your car is in any public place, even when parked.

Even now, if you cover your car with a big canvas cover when you park it, you’re supposed to leave your plates visible.

Sure, governments might like the real ones. But now that the real one exists, people are going to make fakes, and it won’t be possible to superficially tell the difference. Meaning that anyone who wants one will now have a license plate that they can change at the touch of a button.

Totally. I bought a 2020 Equinox, and recently had a flat tire on my way to work. It was nice to see the dashboard notification confirming my suspicion about the tire (right rear, 5 psi), but it was quite unexpected to see the e-mail later that night on my laptop, telling me that someone else somewhere else noticed my tire was flat. It’s on my permanent record somewhere, now.

In addition to all the other issues, I wonder how readable these plates will be at night. The white lettering on a bluish-gray background is somewhat reminiscent of Ontario’s recent plate redesign which was so widely criticized for being hard to see at night that the plates were eventually withdrawn. This is additional to the fact that e-ink doesn’t have really great contrast to begin with.

Some of us are still driving older vehicles that DON’T have GPS and WiFi. As long as it is cheaper to fix than replace I’ll keep mine.

An old fashioned non-digital license plate is a robust technology that is durable in all sorts of weathers and conditions and requires zero power input. Also requires no monthly payments or additional fees.

I agree with the OP that this seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

How are these screens going to hold up in sub-zero weather? In extreme heat? Light impacts that wouldn’t impair an “analog” plate but could easily damage electronics?

Not mine - no remote anything on my vehicles, no OnStar, nothing like that. Can’t hook my cell phone up to it either. I kind of like the retro low-tech aspect to my vehicles.

I dread the day I have to buy another vehicle because mine have finally died because I do not want all that crap on my vehicle. It’s not needed and just makes basic transportation more expensive.

How water resistant are they, for that matter? Can these be run through a car wash? Are they affected in rainy weather (just in case it ever rains again)?

Relax. No one is required to use these.