In the US, the state of California has begun testing a new electronic or digital vehicle license plate that allows changeable messages to be displayed either by the driver or remotely by fleet managers.

The new e-plate employs the same display technology as Kindle eBook readers, along with a wireless communication system, its own integrated computer chips and battery. Motorists who choose to purchase the plate can register their vehicles electronically and eliminate the need to physically stick tags on their plates each year.

One of the benefits is that if a car with the e-plate is stolen, authorities will know exactly where the car is, or at least where the license plate is if it has been detached. Testing is currently underway, and the state is preparing for a roll-out later this year – California is the first state in the US to use digital vehicle license plates.

Dubai is also testing a similar e-plate technology

The state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is conducting a pilot project with plate manufacturer Reviver Auto, and is about to begin marketing it for sale at auto dealerships. The price for one? US$699 (RM2,800), excluding installation costs. There’s also a mandatory monthly fee of US$7 (RM28), because the plates are not purchasable through the DMV.

A state spokesman told Sacramento Bee that “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.” Under the pilot programme, the state can allow up to 0.5% of the state’s 35 million vehicles — about 175,000 vehicles — to use the plates during the test period.

Dubai also announced a similar effort earlier this year, revealing its intentions to try out digital license plates. Equipped with GPS and transmitters, the plates would be able to inform authorities of emergencies should the driver get into an accident.