Herman: Are digital license plates in your car’s future?

Herman: Are digital license plates in your car’s future?

Today, I bring news from Your 86th Texas Legislature. Depending on where you are on the libertarianism scale this might be good news or it might be bad news.

We’re more than a third of the way through the 140-day regular legislative session. Talk among yourselves for a few seconds, so I can do some ciphering and total up how many new laws your lawmakers have made so far.

Let’s see. Two goes into four twice. Divide by the hypotenuse of your ZIP code. Subtract your shoe size (rounded up to the nearest full size). OK, got it.

So far your lawmakers have made exactly zero laws. But don’t worry. They will make some. The zero total was foreseeable because of rules that backload the action toward later in the session. Oh, this doesn’t mean the folks at Your State Capitol haven’t been chatting among themselves (and perhaps with helpful lobbyists) about what laws will be made.

So, fear not. The people you elected as lawmakers will make laws, perhaps thousands of them, before the regular session ends May 27. If you elect people to make laws, laws they shall make. I believe I’ve cautioned you about this in the past. Despite my wise counsel, some percentage of you have continue to go to the ballot box to elect people to make laws.

I do have some updates today on this year’s incarnation of the legislative effort to rid Texas of something some Texans see as onerous duplication: The license plate on the front of your car or truck that says the same thing as the license plate on the rear of your car or truck.

A few weeks back, I told you about House Bill 673 by Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, that would exempt “luxury passenger cars,” defined as those that cost $60,000 or more, from the Texas two-plate law. If King gets his way, which seems doubtful, those vehicles would only need a plate on the back.

Now, others have joined and expanded the idea. Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, and Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, have filed bills to do away with front license plates on all passenger vehicles. Shaheen’s is HB 2149. Fallon’s version is Senate Bill 805. FYI, this effort has failed in the past at the Capitol.

And, in an exciting development that offers a glimpse into the future of license plates, Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, has filed HB 1711, “relating to the issuance of digital license plates.”

Digital license plates are license plates that have digits on them. Wait a minute, all license plates have digits on them. HB 1711 is about “an electronic license plate that is designed to display the information required to be included on a physical license plate and be placed on a vehicle ... in lieu of a physical license plate.”

Oh, now I get it. Didn’t George Jetson have these?

Digital license plates offer all kinds of opportunities, some of them profit-making. Paddie’s bill says the state may authorize digital plate providers to equip the newfangled plates for electronic toll collection and parking permits, as well as the ability to display emergency alerts issued by law enforcement and (here comes the profit center) “advertising approved by the department.”

Some states are ahead of Texas on this. Some states always are ahead of Texas on some stuff. California has a pilot program going in which some drivers already are displaying digital plates with, as the Sacramento Bee reported, “changeable messages controlled by the driver or remotely by the fleet managers.”

Hey, get your mind out of the gutter. I know what genre of messages you’re thinking of displaying. These plates should not be used to suggest that the tailgating jerk behind you perform an act generally considered to be physically impossible. Remember, there are kids out there.

The plates are selling in California for $699 and a $7 monthly fee.

Michigan and Arizona also are using digital plates. A January press release on behalf of Reviver Auto, which claims to be creator of “the world’s first and only digital license plate,” said the new technology is an upgrade over “today’s 125-year-old stamped metal license.”

The company’s promotional video shows the various possible uses, including advertising and remotely putting the word “stolen” on a stolen vehicle. I guess if you see one of those you could program your digital plate to say, “Hey, pull over!”

One more thing about HB 1711, it says vehicles with digital plates wouldn’t need one on the front.

By Ken Herman

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