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California legalizes digital license plates for all vehicles

Which is great news for the single company that makes them

California has ended a pilot program and fully legalized digital license plates for private and commercial vehicles, which is great news for the one company that makes them.

A bill, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, permits the California Department of Motor Vehicles "to establish a program authorizing an entity to issue alternatives to stickers, tabs, license plates, and registration cards" for vehicles in the state.

California-based Reviver, which produces the only apparent commercialized E Ink digital license plates, known as the Rplate, thanked various interest groups in the state for passing the bill after a trial program was authorized in 2013. Reviver said it put 10,000 Rplates on the road in California during the trial period from 2017. The company was founded in 2009. 

"Californians are known to be early adopters of emerging innovative technologies. We welcome new opportunities to automate and integrate as many parts of our lives as possible, enabling us to streamline mundane tasks and stay connected. Our cars are no exception," said Reviver co-founder and chief strategy officer Neville Boston. 

Reviver's plates come in battery and wired versions, with the latter restricted to commercial fleets. Reviver claims the battery has a life of five years, made possible by E Ink's need to only draw power when changing the display.

The Rplate can reportedly function in extreme temperatures, has some customization features, and is managed via Bluetooth using a smartphone app. Rplates are also equipped with an LTE antenna, which can be used to push updates, change the plate if the vehicle is reported stolen or lost, and notify vehicle owners if their car may have been stolen.

Perhaps most importantly to the average car owner, Reviver said Rplate owners can renew their registration online through the Reviver mobile app.

With Reviver being the only apparent digital license plate option in California, they've been able to set their own prices, though the new bill does require the DMV to have a say in whether those prices are fair.

Right now, an Rplate for a personal vehicle (the battery version) runs to $19.95 a month for 48 months, which will total $975.60 if kept for the full term. If opting to pay a year at a time, the price is $215.40 a year for the same four-year period, totaling $861.60. Wired plates for commercial vehicles run $24.95 for 48 months, and $275.40 if paid yearly. 

California DMV fees can be steep, but not that high.

According to Reviver, digital license plates (or at least its Rplate) are legal for sale in California, Arizona, and Michigan, and legal for commercial vehicles only in Texas. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Illinois are all in various stages of piloting digital plates.

Privacy risks are an obvious concern when thinking about strapping an always-connected digital device to a car, but the California law has taken steps that may address some of those concerns. 

"The bill would generally prohibit an alternative device [i.e. digital plate] from being equipped with GPS or other vehicle location tracking capability," California's legislative digest said of the new law. Commercial fleets are exempt from the rule, unsurprisingly. 

That ban on tracking is kinda at odds with Reviver's plates equipped with LTE, though the biz says its devices are legal and available for sale in Cali, suggesting the hardware in their plates somehow isn't able to be used for unlawful tracking purposes.

The law also includes a provision requiring the DMV to recall "any alternative devices equipped with GPS or other tracking technology that have been issued, pursuant to the existing pilot program," by January 1, 2024. And it does make an exception for some personal cars: those can be tracked by employers, but only during business hours and only "if strictly necessary for the performance of the employee's duties." ®

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