Michigan 1st state to approve digital license plates

Michigan 1st state to approve digital license plates

Stamped metal license plates? That's so last century.

Michigan drivers could one day have a new option: high-definition digital screens.  

The state's lame-duck Legislature approved a bill in December that allows the use of electronic license plates. Reviver Auto, the manufacturer of the Rplate digital plate, said Michigan was the first state in the nation to pass such legislation. 

While digital plates have been tested elsewhere, whether they appear soon on I-94 or I-696 remains to be seen. 

"No decisions have been made regarding these types of license plates," said Shawn Starkey, spokesman for Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. 

Officials with California-based Reviver Auto say the sleek, internet-connected plates have a long list of benefits, including automated vehicle renewals and easy personalization to reflect a driver's favorite sports team or charitable cause.

The e-paper placards could also be used to pay bridge and road tolls and track a vehicle if it is stolen, according to Reviver Auto CEO Neville Boston. 

"It’s more than just a plate. It's a communication portal," he said. 

Boston said the plates are visible in all types of light, much like Kindle e-readers. They can withstand extreme hot and cold.  

Reviver Auto representatives were in Detroit this week demonstrating how the plates work during the media and industry days at the North American International Auto Show.  

Rplates are being tested now in Arizona and California. 

About 1,400 of California's 35 million registered vehicles have the plates under a pilot program that launched in 2018, California Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman Marty Greenstein said.

Rplates costs $499 for a standard version and $799 for a plate with GPS technology — much pricier than the $22 a California driver spends to replace a standard plate. They are sold at dealerships and pro shops and through Reviver Auto's website. 

Greenstein said so far, he hasn't heard of any problems or technical glitches associated with the plates. Lawmakers recently voted to extend the pilot program to 2020. 

"The purpose of the pilot is to identify and detail potential benefits, so we are still in the evaluation phase and won’t make any determinations until the pilot concludes," Greenstein said. 

Some people have raised privacy and security concerns about the plates. Boston said all communication channels are encrypted. 

"It's as safe as an online banking session," he said.  

Just before retiring at the end of December, former state Sen. Mike Kowall pushed to amend a bill about vehicle registration fees to include language allowing the digital plates. 

Kowal said he believes the plates will play an important role in the development of autonomous and connected vehicle technology.  

"This is the wave of the future," he said.

Contact Ann Zaniewski: 313-222-6594 or azaniewski@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @AnnZaniewski.