May 16, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

Customizable digital license plates could come to Colorado

3 min read

Stamped aluminum license plates may be getting more futuristic competition under a bill that recently passed the Colorado House of Representatives.

The digital plates are more like the e-ink of an Amazon Kindle than the neon-pop advertisements of Blade Runner, and they wouldn’t completely replace the aluminum identifiers that have adorned cars for decades.

They are an up-and-coming option for consumers and particularly fleet vehicles, sponsoring state Reps. Tony Exum and Kevin Van Winkle said. Their bill passed the House by a vote of 59-6, and is heading to the Senate.

Exum, D-Colorado Springs, spearheaded the effort. While he initially chalked up new plates as vanity displays – they can cost $1,000 or more – he became convinced of their merits, particularly for large fleets where operators need to mass update registrations and be able to clearly mark if a vehicle is idle, in use or unavailable. They would not be available for things like flashing advertisements.

“I thought it would be like, maybe preppy folks who had extra money and wanted to start a new trend,” Exum said of his initial impressions. “But it’s actually a practical use for larger companies.”

Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch, signed onto the bill as it neared a floor vote. He had initial concerns about security and tracking, but assurances of bank-level encryption and no automatic GPS allayed them. At that point, it was about giving consumers more options, he said.

“Frankly, it’s just one more option for consumers,” Van Winkle said. “If they want to do it, they can. If they don’t want to do it, then no worries whatsoever.”

The plates are already available in California, Arizona and Michigan. Other states are establishing rules for their rollout, and they meet reciprocity standards if someone drives from a digital license plate state to one without rules for them.

Specific rules around their deployment would need to be developed by the Colorado Department of Revenue, in conjunction with Colorado State Patrol. If the bill becomes law, Van Winkle estimates they could be seen on Colorado roadways as soon as next year.

Consumers and fleet operators who opt for the plates would still need to keep one traditional, metal plate. They also wouldn’t be able to turn their digital plates into flashing advertisements.

In addition to potentially easier updates and fleet management, the technology may also have benefits for crime and safety, such as highlighting if a car is stolen or subject to an Amber Alert. That hasn’t come up often, however, Exum said. The technology hasn’t spread to enough people that it’s been a regular factor in those incidents, he said.

Colorado might soon allow digital license plates. Here’s why people and companies want them.