SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- As electronic highway billboards flashing neon advertisements become more prevalent, the next frontier in distracted driving is already approaching -- ad-blaring license plates.
The California Legislature is considering a bill that would allow the state to begin researching the use of electronic license plates for vehicles. The move is intended as a moneymaker for a state facing a $19 billion deficit.
The device would mimic a standard license plate when the vehicle is in motion but would switch to digital ads or other messages when it is stopped for more than four seconds, whether in traffic or at a red light. The license plate number would remain visible at all times in some section of the screen.
In emergencies, the plates could be used to broadcast Amber Alerts or traffic information.
The bill's author, Democratic Sen. Curren Price of Los Angeles, said California would be the first state to implement such technology if the state Department of Motor Vehicles ultimately recommends the widespread use of the plates. He said other states are exploring something similar.
Interested advertisers would contract directly with the DMV, thus opening a new revenue stream for the state, Price said.
"We're just trying to find creative ways of generating additional revenues," he said. "It's an exciting marriage of technology with need, and an opportunity to keep California in the forefront."
Price said the devices also would cut costs by streamlining the distribution, activation and registration of license plates.
The legislative analysis of SB1453 does not include estimates of how much revenue could be saved or gained from license plate advertising.
At least one company, San Francisco-based Smart Plate, is developing a digital electronic license plate but has not yet reached the production stage.
Reached by e-mail Friday, the company's chief executive, M. Conrad Jordan, said the legislation provides an opportunity for the state to harness some of the creativity and technical expertise of its private sector.
Jordan said he envisioned the license plates as not just another advertising venue, but as a way to display personalized messages -- broadcasting the driver's allegiance to a sports team or an alma mater, for example.
"The idea is not to turn a motorist's vehicle into a mobile billboard, but rather to create a platform for motorists to show their support for existing good working organizations," he said.
The bill would authorize the DMV to work with Smart Plate or another company to explore the use and safety of electronic license plates -- a process that would include consultations with the California Highway Patrol, Price said.
CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said the agency has not take a position on the legislation. A spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he also will remain neutral until the bill reaches his desk.
Any cost associated with the initial research would be borne by the company, not the state, Price said.
The DMV would be required to submit its findings and recommendations to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2013.
The bill has received no formal opposition. It passed unanimously through the Senate last month and is scheduled to be heard Monday by the Assembly Transportation Committee.
Other measures scheduled to be heard in the Legislature this week:
-- Bicyclists would be the latest group prohibited from using hand-held communications devices on the go, under SB1475 by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. The bill would extend the state's handsfree requirements for drivers to bicyclists and strengthen the penalties for violators. In addition, driver's license exams would have to include a section on the dangers of cell phone use and text-messaging while operating a motor vehicle. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Transportation Committee on Monday.
-- Lead ammunition would be banned completely from state wildlife management areas under a bill by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara. While state law already requires hunters to use nontoxic shot to hunt waterfowl and big game, certain migratory birds and small game species are not protected. Nava's AB2223 seeks to close that loophole. He says lead ammunition can spread through the food chain when animals ingest the casings. The bill is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee.
-- Food stamp recipients who move from one county to another would be able to transfer their benefits without reapplying under a bill by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. Inter-county transfers already occur with MediCal and CalWORKS assistance, but families must reapply for food stamp benefits any time they change counties. Skinner said AB2018 will save time and money. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates it costs $93 -- $46.50 to the state and $46.50 to the federal government -- to process a new food stamp application. AB2018 is scheduled to come before the Senate Human Services Committee on Tuesday.