Number plates: people just can’t seem to leave them alone. From spurious representations of the driver’s name (if you have to explain it, it doesn’t work) to blocky ‘4D’ characters and snazzy fonts, drivers love pushing the boundaries of taste, and legality, with their car’s plates. What happened to ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’? Well, it looks like the old school number plate could soon be a thing of the past, as Michigan has become the third US state to approve fully-digitalised ‘license plates’, while British firm iPlate is promising its first product in January 2023 following a UK trial.
According to Reviver, one of the big players in the US digital plate market, the new technology offers several advantages over its plastic counterpart. If a vehicle is being driven without insurance or a valid MOT, or if it has been stolen, the colour of the number plate will change to indicate this to surrounding motorists or passers-by. The digital plate can also send notifications to the car owner’s phone if the vehicle’s insurance has expired or an MoT test is due as well as if the plate has been tampered with or if the car has been stolen.
A live GPS tracking system is also built into the digital plates, so you can track the whereabouts of your car – as long as the plate is still fixed to it, of course. Some countries will even allow the plate’s owner to add a hilarious bumper-sticker style message such as ‘my driving scares me too’ or ‘my other car is a Ferrari’. We can’t wait for that.
However, these digital number plate benefits come at a cost. Over in the US, the commercially available digital plates come with a monthly subscription fee of between $20 (£16.50) and $25 (£20.60), while a plate could cost up to $899 (£670) as a one-off payment in certain countries. Over in the US, the state doesn’t receive any extra revenue from selling digital plates, but we’re yet to hear about how the technology may play out in the UK. Regardless, the rumoured prices for digital plates are eye-watering, to say the least.
There have also been some concerns around privacy, as a digital number plate would almost certainly hold, and allow third parties to collect, sensitive data about the driver. The tech could be a potential target for hackers or even the thin end of the wedge for automatic road charging and speed limiting. On the plus side, the technology could open up a whole range of new car design opportunities. Designers would have the option of integrating the car’s number plate display into the vehicle’s bodywork rather than leaving a vacant rectangle for dealers to screw-on a traditional plate.
So, what do you think about the digital number plate? Is this just another gimmick in the making, does it have some serious advantages or do the potential costs outweigh any benefits? Will you be buying one?