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California Expands Digital License Plates, Ends Pilot ProgramRead Time: 2 mins
Effective January 1, 2023, all California vehicle owners will be able to display a digital license plate in lieu of a traditional, state-issued license plate. Assembly Bill 984—approved by the governor on September 29, 2022—effectively ends California’s multi-year pilot program, which capped digital license plates at roughly one-half of one percent of the state’s motor vehicles. California will join Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, and Michigan as states that have approved digital license plates for widespread use among the motoring public.
While digital license plates may look like a traditional license plate, they are not surface-printed or embossed on plastic or metal. Instead, a digital license plate typically includes a processing unit, storage media, and wireless connectivity all built into an electronic display—similar to a tablet e-reader and roughly the same size as a traditional license plate. On one hand, this technology makes it easier for vehicle owners to maintain their title, registration, and other vehicle records—essentially eliminating DMV visits altogether. Conversely, the technology also makes it easier for creditors to track and locate vehicles (such as for repossession purposes) and for the state to monitor citizens’ general whereabouts—all of which raise legal, privacy, ethical, and safety concerns.
In an attempt to address these issues, A.B. 984 generally prohibits digital license plates from being equipped with GPS or other vehicle location tracking capability, with exceptions for fleet and commercial vehicles. A.B. 984 also prohibits employers from using such a device to “locate, track, watch, listen to, or otherwise surveil employees during work hours” unless strictly necessary for the performance of their job duties. Further, if a vehicle is so equipped, the employer must first notify each employee that monitoring will occur and allow the employee to disable monitoring outside of work hours. Finally, the bill requires the California DMV to, by no later than January 1, 2024, recall all devices that were equipped with GPS or other tracking technology as part of the pilot program.
Several other states are also exploring this technology. For example, earlier this year Texas approved digital license plates for commercial fleets of twenty-five or more vehicles. Going forward, expect more states to follow suit.
Reprinted with permission from the American Bar Association’s Business Law Today October Month-In-Brief: Business Regulation & Regulated Industries.