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California drivers can now sport digital license plates on their cars

A digital license plate made by Reviver is shown in California on May 30, 2018.
Justin Sullivan
/
Getty Images
A digital license plate made by Reviver is shown in California on May 30, 2018.

The license plate-sized screens display a plate number and allow drivers to renew their registration. They also allow users to track a vehicle with GPS and display a warning if the car is stolen.

Say goodbye to that rusty piece of metal. California drivers will now be able to get digital license plates under a new law.

The Golden State had previously been piloting alternatives to traditional license plates, but a law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom late last month extends the option to all drivers.

The license plate-sized screens display a driver's license plate number and allow motorists to renew their registration automatically. Users can even change between light and dark modes and customize the plates with personalized banners.

California Assemblymember Lori Wilson, who sponsored the legislation, said it will make life easier for drivers.

"It is a product of convenience and I'm all about giving people choice here in the state of California," Wilson said, according to ABC30 Fresno.

Reviver, the company that provides digital license plates in California, said the technology is also legal in Arizona and Michigan as well as in Texas for commercial fleet vehicles. Ten other states are also considering adopting digital license plates, the California-based firm said.

The plates' tracking capabilities have raised privacy concerns

The company's so-called RPlate can be equipped with GPS and allows users, including employers, to track a vehicle's location and mileage.

That capability has raised eyebrows among privacy advocates, but Reviver has said that it doesn't share data with the California Department of Motor Vehicles or law enforcement.

The RPlate can also flash a message if a vehicle is reported stolen or if there's an Amber Alert, features that Wilson believes will be a boon to public safety.

"Looking at the back of a vehicle, if I'm driving behind a vehicle and I see this, it will give me a cause for concern and I will be on alert for what I can potentially see," Wilson said. She told the Los Angeles Times that drivers with privacy concerns could disable the GPS function on their own vehicles.

The company reported that about 10,000 California drivers bought the RPlate during the pilot program, a number that's expected to grow now that the digital license plates are available to all 36 million vehicles registered in the state.

A 2019 report from the California DMV found that — aside from a few traffic stops by police who believed the digital license plates were illegal — there were no significant concerns about the new technology from officials or drivers.

"The department believes that the Digital License Plate is a viable license plate alternative and recommends it to become a permanent option for Californians," the agency said.

Reviver offers a battery-powered version of the RPlate that costs $19.95 per month as well as a hard-wired option for commercial vehicles priced at $24.95 per month.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez