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California may sell ads on license plates

Or you could pay for the right to display your love for your team on an electronic plate.

By Karen Datko Jun 17, 2010 1:48PM

Here's where technology and California's hulking budget deficit may make a happy match. The Legislature there is considering a bill to study the benefits of selling advertising on electronic license plates.

The advertising or another message of the driver's choice would appear on a rear license plate only after the vehicle has stopped for four seconds. Otherwise, we'd have a new form of distracted driving: "Sorry, officer, I was mesmerized by the ad for the (strip club, cheeseburger and fries, Los Angeles Dodgers, etc.)"

In fact, a driver could select all kinds of messages to appear, according to The Sacramento Bee's CapitolAlert blog.

SB 1453 envisions that the DMV would charge for the right to display commercial advertising or other images desired by private vehicle owners, such as a Sacramento Kings insignia or a Golden Bear for UC Berkeley football fans.

Private companies would pay for the advertising. Car owners would pay for the right to show their school pride or love of team.


The bill has already passed the California Senate and will come before the Assembly. If it passes, the Department of Motor Vehicles would investigate and come up with a recommendation, News10 reports. Any costs of the study would be borne by private entities. A tiny Bay Area firm is developing the plates.


But what about the real reason to have license plates (other than raising money for the state)? "The license number is always visible in the corner," said Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, who introduced the bill. "Even when it's advertising about an event coming up, or a nonprofit organization, or a public service activity, the numbers are still visible."


Is this a good idea? What's next? "Why not have commercials painted on Highway Patrol cars, or fire engines? Is there no end to this commercialization idiocy?" an SFGate reader wrote.

The idea hasn't gone over well with other commenters. "Not on my car!" many proclaimed. However, "Capital" wrote, "I might go for this if it meant that my yearly vehicle registration were free." Don't count on that.


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