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Maryland Launches Two-Year Digital License Plate Pilot

The Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration will explore the durability and public safety benefits of digital license plates on 22 state-owned vehicles during a two-year pilot.

Maryland will be the fourth state to implement a pilot program exploring the potential of digital license plates.

The Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA) has partnered with Reviver, a digital license plate manufacturer, to test the company’s Rplate, which is similar in size to a traditional plate but with an electronic display capable of relaying public safety notices and registration updates instantly.

MDOT MVA will outfit 20 vehicles in its fleet and two belonging to the Maryland Transportation Authority, including cars, SUVs and trucks. Reviver is providing the 22 Rplate Pro models at no cost to the state and each features LTE connection, a front-lit, high-definition display, plate customization, personalized messages, and advanced telematics. The Rplate Pro retails for $499, according to Reviver’s website.

MDOT MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer said state officials want to use the pilot program to explore how the digital plates perform overall on the road and the potential benefits to public safety.

“The plates that have been on the vehicles for years and years are very rugged, and people are able to still have readable plates after having it on their vehicles for many years,” Nizer said. “We have to see if the same can be said related to digital plates.”

She said ensuring the plates are weather-proof and compliant with the needs of law enforcement are top priorities as the pilot gets underway. Vehicles with the Rplate are being driven in toll lanes to test camera visibility and police will test the readability of digital plates against patrol car dash cams.

“Some of the other things to look at is the ability to add updated information to the plate, that’s obviously one of the big benefits of the digital plate versus the physical plate that you get today,” Nizer said. “With a digital plate, the idea would be that if a customer renews their registration, you’d be able to automatically update the information on the plate. No more need for a sticker to be adhered to the plate, saving time and making it more convenient for customers, so we want to test those kinds of updates.”

While other states including California, Arizona and Michigan have legalized a public rollout of the technology, Maryland would need to amend its laws. Nizer said the statute pertaining to registration currently envisions physical stickers being placed on license plates. It costs MVA about $500,000 annually to order and mail registration stickers to drivers.  

A probable segue to full implementation of Rplates is to test the technology on commercial vehicle fleets during the pilot program, she said.

“It’s one thing where an individual has one vehicle and they renew registration. Imagine you had hundreds of vehicles,” Nizer said. “When you renew that registration, the vehicle might be out of state, if it’s a commercial business, and trying to make sure that sticker gets applied appropriately on the plate might not be the most convenient thing. Certainly, that’s an application that might be interesting to explore as we get further down the road in the pilot.”

Reviver Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Neville Boston said state transportation agencies across the U.S. are looking at ways to modernize registration systems, and one solution is his company’s product.

“The big thing for us, that we do state to state, is we actually have a conversation and find out what their needs are,” Boston said. “We look at ourselves as more of a partnership than as a vendor relationship because our success is tied to them being successful in what they do.”

He said the Rplate is designed to be customizable with a wide range of functions for transportation officials to pick and choose from. A popular feature of the digital plates is the ability to display public safety notices, such as if the vehicle is stolen, a nearby Amber alert or severe weather conditions.

“We want to take the lead from the state in regard to how they want the product to work and to be utilized and that’s important to us,” Boston said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all. I think the real value is in the ability to offer different solutions that work for their particular needs.”

Nizer said the pilot will explore how to safely convey important messages while a vehicle is in motion, which differs from other implementations across the nation restricting notices to nonmovement only. She said the goal is to inform more people during emergencies who might have been made aware through traditional methods, like radio, television and text alerts.

“Distracted driving is obviously a key safety issue, so we don’t want to add any information unnecessarily to the plate,” she said. “We’re looking at different designs of how you show information in a way that is visible, but again not something that would distract other drivers.”

It would also mitigate crime by visually broadcasting to law enforcement that a vehicle is stolen or operating with outdated registration, which officers and sheriff’s deputies currently become aware of through BOLO dispatches and traffic stops, she said.

“The idea [of the pilot program] being to have a statewide footprint,” Nizer said. “Our cars are driven throughout the state of Maryland, so it’s the ability to test different climates, different environments and also just to get the vehicle out there to have individuals be able to see what the plate looks like to better understand what the technology is and that’s really a part of it, too.”

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.