As Maryland begins a two-year pilot plan on the use of digital license plates, evidence from other states that use the evolving technology is slim.
The state announced this week that it will outfit 20 Motor Vehicle Administration fleet vehicles and two Maryland Transportation Authority vehicles with the digital plates, with electronic displays that show information currently available on traditional metal plates.
The MVA likes to experiment with technology when it can, and had been talking with the digital license plate manufacturer Reviver for about a year, MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer said Thursday.
The technology could be used to provide electronic registration updates for or alert police to stolen vehicles, she said.
The pilot program, which is being done at no cost to the state, will allow the agency to test the plates’ durability and how they perform in different weather conditions, as well as make sure they can be seen by law enforcement and by red-light cameras and similar technology, she said.
The plates are wireless devices similar to an electronic tablet, which displays a vehicle’s license plate number and other information.
The plates won’t be linked to a user’s driving record or other information, Nizer said.
The Department of Transportation will provide limited information, but only the information that’s already visible on the plate, she said.
Use of the plates would be entirely optional, she said.
Arizona announced in January that it was making the option available to drivers, after 18 months of testing it on several of its fleet vehicles.
They were satisfied after the testing that the plates would work for law enforcement, and for drivers who choose to use them, said Steve Elliott, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Elliott said he’s not aware of any plates in use in the state.
California has about 1,400 digital plates in circulation since they began to be offered last year, Marty Greenstein, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, said in an email Friday.
Then-California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in 2013 to allow a pilot program, and the program was extended in 2016 and 2018. A report is due to the state Legislature by July 1, 2020.
The ongoing pilot program means that the state doesn’t have data to release on how the plates have worked so far.
“The purpose of the pilot [program] 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,” Greenstein said.
California allows the digital plates only on the rear of a vehicle, and drivers participating in the pilot program still have to mount a traditional plate on the front.
Drivers must also keep a letter from the DMV in their vehicle, confirming their participation in the pilot program.