Q. Dear Honk: Today I saw an electronic license plate on a car. I came up behind it at a traffic light that changed and the driver turned before I got a good look at it — but it had the correct character sequence for a California license plate. What’s up with that?
— Karen Robbins, Murrieta
A. You know us Californians, Karen, we like our newfangled gadgets.
Back in late 2015, the Department of Motor Vehicles began testing what it calls “digital license plates.”
They are black on white, or vice-versa, with a matte look, powered by battery or wired into the vehicle’s electrical system and produced by a company called Reviver, based in Granite Bay, northeast of Sacramento.
One of several hundred phrases – such as “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS,” “HAVE A NICE DAY” or ‘LOOKING FOR A TRAIL” – can be programmed for the bottom of the plate. “Fight On!” and “Go Bruins!” could be on the way. So could another significant option.
“We’re looking to have color,” said Neville Boston, a Reviver co-founder.
Of course, the proper license-plate sequence would be locked in on the electronic screens.
Besides the look – which is nifty – the plates, if desired, can offer info to smartphones such as GPS, warnings if the vehicle goes beyond a certain point, driving habits and the vehicle’s speed, features largely geared for businesses with fleets to make sure drivers are doing what’s right.
If the vehicle is ripped off, the owner can call Reviver, which contacts the authorities and confirms it was taken, and “STOLEN” is displayed above the plate number.
The pilot program was extended and is now set to end on Jan. 1. As of last week, the DMV says 9,202 vehicles were in the program – so catching a glimpse of one isn’t unrealistic. The special plate is on the vehicle’s rear end while a conventional plate is up front.
The digital plates can be purchased from Reviver, for $899 for the battery version with the annual service plan at $55 after the first year; the wired option is $999 and $75. Too rich for Honk, but others can sign on now. Boston says the pilot program can take as many as 200,000 or so vehicles; those interested can go to reviver.com.
“The plates are available to the public who volunteer to participate in the pilot program, but the California Legislature would have to act to allow these products to be issued outside of the pilot program,” Ronald Ongtoaboc, a DMV spokesman, told Honk in an email.
Boston is optimistic. In a 2019 report, the DMV backed the plates, saying it wants to be innovative and save the state money, along with other tested options – bumper stickers for front plates and electronic registration cards.
Q. We were stopped at a red light yesterday, on the southbound off-ramp of the 405 Freeway to Lake Forest Drive. The ramp has several lanes. An emergency vehicle pulled up behind us one lane over with flashing lights. None of the stopped cars moved until the light changed, when the ambulance hit the siren and the cars began moving. What is the right thing to do in this situation?
– Cheryl Crawford and Tom Donnelly, Lake Forest
A. Sounds like everyone involved played it cool – and did the right thing.
Under state law, when any legit emergency vehicle – law enforcement, ambulance or fire vehicle – hits the siren and the red lights, motorists must try to safely scoot out of the way, going to the road’s right side.
Never stop in an intersection. Many emergency vehicles are equipped with loudspeakers and can help guide drivers out of the way.
That ambulance, smartly, didn’t hit the siren until the light went green and it was safe for all to proceed. If it had, drivers could have felt obliged to enter a busy intersection – that thought gives Honk chills, bad ones.
“Where vehicles are stopped for a light on an off-ramp, alongside other vehicles, as an emergency vehicle is approaching from the rear, it can be difficult for motorists to move to the right since they would be blocking each other,” Anselmo Templado, an officer and spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, told Honk via email. “Sometimes, the only thing motorists can do is wait for the light to turn green before they have enough room to yield the right of way with reasonable safety.”
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