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Jun. 29 2010 - 8:26 am | 104 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Watch the road: California considers digital license plate ads

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Image by stevecadman via Flickr

Back in college, I wrote a column about how counterproductive California’s “Watch the Road!” campaign was: Seemingly everywhere you would drive in Los Angeles, you’d see a big, electronic sign flashing the directive at you – effectively distracting you from doing the very thing it was asking.

Then came the infamous digital billboards, whose messages change every few seconds and which contain splashy, moving messages that can also easily distract motorists – not to mention that no human needs to see Ryan Seacrest’s face projected into a 2-story image.

Now, state lawmakers are making moves that could add to the digital blight that is California’s roadways, this week approving money for a study to determine the feasibility of implementing digital ads on vehicle license plates. The ad revenue, they hope, would bring them a step closer toward closing the state’s massive, multibillion-dollar deficit.

In addition to concerns about driver distraction and safety hazards that the new ads might pose, some worry that digital plates could put the state on the road to a big-brother situation, with the government able to track a person’s mileage or whether a person’s insurance coverage has expired.

But proponents of the plan say the ads could be tailored to address safety issues. Reports the L.A. Times:

Backers of the idea said the digital plates could be programmed to display the ads only after an auto has been stopped for four seconds. The car’s license number would be visible in small letters at the corner of the plate when ads are displayed, they said. The ads would disappear and the plate’s regular numbers would pop up when the car started moving.

One company has even suggested that in addition to paid ads, customers could program the plates to flash personal messages, like support for a favorite sports team. One thing’s for sure, though, between the crippling traffic, and digital signage everywhere you look, Californians are increasingly likely to be watching something other than the road while driving.


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    I'm a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focusing on pop and politics, race and culture, and where Gen-Yers fit into it all. My writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, WashingtonPost.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and People magazine. Among other things, I'm Oregon-born, hip-hop-addicted, and weirdly optimistic that the journalism business will stay alive.

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