Archive for July 20th, 2010

Flashing Ads: Proposed Digital License Plates

The following entry was authored by guest contributor Nicky Uribe, a 3L law student at The University of Tennessee College of Law, who is working as a law clerk this summer at Oberman & Rice.


Imagine, you are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. It’s hot. It’s been a long day. I bet you are thinking, “Man, I sure wish I could watch commercials right now.”

No? Well, if you live in California, soon you may not have a choice. The Los Angeles Times reported on June 28, 2010, that the California legislature had proposed a fix for an ever increasing budget deficit: digital license plates.  These license plates would look like a traditional plate but have the ability to flash ads across the face of the plate.

The potential problems with this technology abound. In fact, the California legislature has commissioned a study to determine the efficacy of widespread use of digital license plates. Smart Plate Corp., a manufacturer, claims that the plates could be customized to not only flash ads, but also personalized messages for your favorite sports teams, or flash emergency messages.  However, where the line would be drawn on personalized messages seems a difficult question. Also, such a program would require a statewide wireless connection. Nothing approaching a statewide system is currently in place.

When dealing with technology one must also consider hackers. How will California protect millions of drivers from the ever present and persistent efforts of our nation’s hackers? What kind of messages and images will likely pop up in place of a Bounty ad? Instead of an innocent quicker, picker-upper, will we see pornography? Perhaps hate speech?  Who knows what a trip to the grocer will entail.

Most importantly, won’t digital ads merely create one more distraction for drivers? According to the manufacturers, the answer is no. They believe that they could program the software so that the ads only play when a vehicle is stopped for at least 4 seconds. Some software will keep track of every vehicle and whether it is stopped for at least 4 seconds.  Oh, the kinks that they will have to work out. What happens if the software malfunctions and drivers become distracted? All it takes is one officer to stop you for a traffic violation. Maybe you were on your way home from dinner. You had a couple glasses of wine. You are certainly not impaired but that ad so enticed you that you ran a red light and now you are pulled over. The police officer believes that he smells the odor of alcohol on you and suspects you of DUI.  The next thing that you know, you are hand cuffed and inside a police cruiser, all because of a malfunctioning license plate.

That said, if California is able to work out the problems with these digital ads, they could be a tremendously successful source of revenue for all states, including Tennessee, which we know has its own budget deficit.  Even if this technology does not gain widespread acceptance, you may still be affected. Californians travel, just like everyone else. In fact, without widespread use, such occurrences will likely be even more novel and distracting than they are in California. Southerners, prepare yourself. We are entering a new world and it is looking more and more like the passengers on the space shuttle portrayed in the movie Wall-E every day.

If you find yourself charged with a DUI in these or other circumstances, please contact the attorneys at The Oberman and Rice Law Firm. As always, Steven Oberman and Sara Compher-Rice are available 24 hours a day to assist you with your legal matter.


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