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BB LICENSE PLATE WALL.JPGCalifornia lawmakers are eying vehicle license plates as a new frontier for advertising and a future revenue boon for the state.

Senate legislation would allow the state Department of Motor Vehicles to develop a program enabling license plates on the rear of vehicles, not the front, to be converted into digital message boards.

Senate Bill 1453 was approved by the Senate without a dissenting vote last month, 25-0, and currently is in the Assembly.

Under the measure, what appear to be traditional license plates when a car is moving would convert to message boards that display advertising or other images when the vehicle stops for four seconds or longer - at a stoplight, for example, or in a traffic jam.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Curren Price, D-Inglewood, and is being pushed by a Bay Area company, Smart Plate, that is in the process of developing such a digital license plate.

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.

SB 1453, in its legislative findings, states that a digital license-plate program could generate money for the state and for the DMV, which has been hit with furloughs and other belt-tightening measures by the current budget crisis.

Legislative analyses do not provide an estimate of potential revenue from the program.

SB 1453 requires the DMV to report to the Legislature on the feasibility of a digital license-plate program by Jan. 1, 2013. Research costs, about $200,000, would have to be paid by private vendors.

One issue to be studied is whether public safety could be compromised by drivers reading digital plates of cars stopped in front of them rather than paying attention to oncoming emergency vehicles or to Amber alerts providing information about a kidnapped child.

SB 1453 is scheduled to be heard Monday by the Assembly Transportation Committee.

PHOTO CREDIT: A sample license plate sits on display on the wall at Folsom Prison on Jan. 19, 2007. Sacramento Bee file photo/ Brian Baer



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