Why digital license plates are a great idea

California's plan to have digital license plates opens up a whole new avenue for the finest digital creativity. It is an opportunity not to be missed.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

As a tax-paying, sun-worshiping, tourist-tolerating resident of California, may I say how delighted I am to hear that my state is leading the way toward digital license plates?

As a commercially caring, capitalism-believing, creatively challenging resident of California, may I say how delighted I am that these digital plates will have ads?

There is nothing more dull than sitting behind another car on the Golden Gate Bridge and having to stare at a number plate that reads "5XYJ204."

How could anyone have imagined that a random set of numbers and letters could make anyone happy? Well, anyone other than a Googlie.

We bemoan the fate of our environment, yet we have allowed our Sacramentally myopic apparatchiks to vomit more and more of these inane license plates as if bureaucrat is best.

Finally, the stinging sore of three lifetimes of debt has made California think about beautifying the backs of its cars. Alright, so they're doing it for money. But surely anyone would rather look at a license plate adorned with "Got Milk" rather than "5XYJ204."

The sheer brilliance of the idea, coming from a San Francisco company called Smart Plate, is that if your car is halted for more than four seconds, it magically transforms itself into a billboard.

Creative license plates are in terribly short supply. CC Apreche/Flickr

Surely we are all tired of the sheer nondesriptness or, indeed, the preening vanity of so many current license plates. Yes, I am delighted you bought your car for Jane, but did you really have to underline this tedious morsel with the license plate "4JANE"?

So please imagine how lovely it would be to be stopped in traffic and suddenly see an ad for BP (tagline: "Beyond Politics") appear on the car in front.

Please consider the sheer uplifting nature of the Jag that cut you off just a few hundred yards back suddenly being adorned with, say, an ad for Greenpeace.

And what could be more awe-inspiring than the BMW M5 that's blaring some very dated Jay-Z standing still and beaming up the message "How about a vacation in sunny Germany?!"

The possibilities are without end. Commuters on their way to Google could be hit with the message: "Work at Yahoo. No traffic there."

Drivers on their way to Los Angeles could be struck to life with this ad: "You look awful. Believe in Botox."

And, should you be wafting on a trip north of San Francisco, the enterprising wineries of Sonoma could get together and suggest: "Don't drink and drive in Napa. Sonoma wine is much better."

I would very much like to commend Democratic Sen. Curren Price who has championed this scheme. Finally, someone has found a way to use utterly useless real estate for the common good.

Until now, the most entertaining license plate in California is on a Prius in Marin County. It reads "SMUGCAR."

Although I did, this very Monday evening, see a Nissan 370Z with the license plate "POYZNER." Whether this referred to the Republican candidate defeated by the magnificence and munificence of Meg Whitman, or to the noxious emissions of the vehicle, I am not sure.

I believe that the entry of the freest, most creative enterprise can only brighten our landscape and our people's psyches so that they might arrive at their destinations even more committed to the Californian economy.