Too Much on My Plate

In the latest spin on subscription services, BMW will – for a small fee – heat the seats in your car. Maybe you saw this headline already and thought, “Fake News”.  Afraid not. Rather than simply pushing the heat-the-seat button on your 3 Series sedan you must contact BMW first, who will remotely unlock the feature and charge you by the month. A separate soon-to-be-offered subscription gets you a heated steering wheel. I shouldn’t be surprised by this latest cash grab at the expense of driving comfort. After all, we’re also about to enter the era of electronic license plates.

I find U.S. license plates to be mini-artworks, don’t you?  They’re colorful, often including an image or slogan to proudly advertise the state itself.  The letters and numbers raise from the rest of the aluminum rectangle, giving the fingers a pleasing sensation when you brush over them.  Drivers who choose “vanity plates” offer the rest of us on the road a puzzle, to figure out what phrase the chosen letters/numbers represent (and never getting the chance to ask).  The U.S. Mint should take a cue from colorful license plates and print American dollars with the same pizzazz.  After all, “greenbacks” are anything but mini-artworks.

But I digress. Today we’re talking about license plates, displaying numbers and letters in pixels instead of raised metal.  My first thought when I read about electronic license plates?  Fraud.  I mean, seriously, how easy will it be to hack into the software and alter the numbers and letters, effectively rendering the vehicle impossible to track?  Or worse, what if the software hiccups and the plate displays nothing at all?  It’s kind of like when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana several years ago.  Our state didn’t think that one through either and now we’re dealing with all sorts of hitches in the giddyup.  Electronic license plates are bound to be an imperfect technology.

And yet, just like heated seat subscriptions “digital display plates” have their advantages.  They’ll emit a signal for tracking and monitoring (which some will surely drive to the Supreme Court as an invasion of privacy).  They can flash an easy-to-see message if the vehicle is not properly registered or insured.  They can interface with parking meters and toll systems for automated payments.  Finally, inevitably, they’ll offer advertisements to the captive audience in the car directly behind them, switching from letters/numbers to digital commercials when the car is stopped.

Colorado has joined four other U.S. states who already offer electronic license plates.  Like BMW’s services, the plates will be offered on a monthly subscription.  At $20-$25/mo. they’re a whole lot pricier than standard or even vanity plates.  But you just know there are plenty of drivers who want the latest/greatest technology, even with the inevitable drawbacks of a first-generation product.

[Trivia Break!  Recent demand in several U.S. states moved the license plate character count from six to seven.  Guess how many unique plates you can make from a combination of three numbers and four letters alone?  Sixteen million. It’s fair to say we won’t be needing an eighth license plate character anytime soon.]

I admit I’m slow to adopt new inventions, even though I spent the last twenty years of my career in tech.  The laptop I’m typing on is five years old and doing just fine.  The SUV I drive will last fifteen years since the one I had before it did as well.  And the fitness band I wear gives me a dozen angles on my health yet I’m more interested in the time of day.

Electronic license plates may be overcomplicating the issue.  The metal variety sits there quietly, displaying letters and numbers like it’s supposed to.  The electronic variety aims to be anything but a license plate.  Amber Alerts.  Insurance/registration violations.  Product advertisements.  Or – God forbid – electronic bumper stickers, where the owner can publicly express the kinds of opinions to drive the rest of us to road rage.

Say what you will about BMW, but the automaker is simply climbing onboard the subscription bandwagon.  Who can blame them for finding new ways to make (our) money?  On the other hand, drivers may wake up one day and wonder why we ever caved to electronic license plates.  We just have to glance at our roadside billboards to know we had it coming.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

21 thoughts on “Too Much on My Plate

    1. Same, Neil. When I saw the headline about Colorado approving them, my reaction was, “What’s an electronic license plate?” The Wikipedia article about them was written five years ago. I’m definitely behind the times!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I just hope they get the glitches worked out first! Here in Ontario they changed the material in the license plates and the printing process which made the new plates almost impossible for the police to read at night. Even though they had supposedly been road tested, they all had to be replaced.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found references to plastic plates, Joni, but those may have been short-lived for the same reason you mention. Can’t believe any plastic can survive the wear and tear of the road. The electronic plates seem just as vulnerable. A car tire kicking a rock at just the right angle could shut the whole plate down.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I read about the electronic license plates a few months ago in utter shock. MORE tracking of us. Also, as you mentioned, what I read is that they are a lot more expensive too. We don’t need it. BMW — incredible. I bet they won’t allow for a 6 month subscription ONLY to use in winter months. Sure, there are good things about technology, but the bad part is how it takes over our lives more and more. Sigh…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you, Monica. It fascinates me these plates are available in four states already, which suggests people are willing to be tracked AND pay the subscription. Technology over privacy? Not in my world.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I looked into the BMW story because I didn’t believe it… I can’t see why people would want to spend a monthly fee for their license plate. I am just happy that NY changed their license plates form the hideous yellow to white when we registered our car here. That was quite the ordeal!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. BMW claims you’ll use the heated seats as needed, meaning you can turn the subscription on/off at will like Netflix. Still feels like a money grab. As for the electronic plates, you can only have one and it has to be on the back of the car. I guess that makes sense for vanity’s sake – your front plate doesn’t get looked at nearly as often as the back one.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You should apply for the patent on that immediately, Andrew. The car manufacturers would jump all over a modular, retrofitted reader for the dashboard. You could make a fortune.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had heard about BMW’s subscription fee for heated car seats earlier and it left me shaking my head. One more computer chip fiasco – in fact, by all means, let’s use dwindling computer chips to put up a paywall to keep your bum warm. I had NOT heard about e-plates, which also leaves me wondering why the world continues to become more and more digital. Maybe it is because I subscribe to the KISS method of life – I like simplicity. I drive an 11-year old car (9,600 miles) and you’ve said you worked for HP, so I will sing the praises of my 11-year-old HP laptop and two other laptops, also HPs. If these HP laptops could count keystrokes like miles, the odometers would be in six-digit figures. I am only 66 years old Dave, but time and time again I feel the world is spinning around too fast for me and I’d like to jump off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Linda (including the KISS philosophy), and I hope this is more than us just acting our age 🙂 As I told another reader, why fix what isn’t broken? If you want heated seats, pay for them; if not, don’t, but why complicate the options with a subscription? I suppose as long as I can still get “regular” license plates I really have nothing to complain about.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I always opt for the KISS philosophy. Now that you’ve turned the big 6-0, you’ll be like me and wonder why everything is so darn complicated these days. Michigan opted for a vintage-style plate from the 60s along with the Big Mac Bridge if you want to pay extra. We were *required* to buy new standard license plates a few years ago that had reflective marks on the numbers.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. We have a BMW so I was curious about the subscription news. Looks like it is being rolled out in only a few countries so far. If you have already paid for the feature, like heated seats, then you won’t have to pay again by subscription. It looks like the subscriptions will have an option to pay one fee that will give you permanent use. I wonder if that one time fee is about the same as you would have paid if you had bought that option upfront when you ordered the car…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe the long run will prove me wrong, Margy, but it does seem like an unnecessary complication, especially if buyers are willing to pay for heated seats up front. Then again, I have more subscriptions to products these days than I care to admit… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is the first time I’m hearing about digital license plates. Wow. I don’t even understand vanity plates – why would anyone want to pay more than you have to for the privilege of registering your car with the state?

    Life seems be turning into nothing beyond serving as a revenue source for every big tech or government organization who can find us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t get it either, J.P. This product flies in the face of our recent obsession with our personal privacy. The tracking/monitoring aspect seems to be the only upside (if you can call it that).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I haven’t heard about the electronic places, and surprised that they are in Colorado. Another way to bring in money. I’ll have to look for them on the highway, just out of curiousity. I grimaced when I read your idea of electronic bumper stickers!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. When we moved to Colorado thirty years ago it was refreshing to see the lack of billboards. Now I’m afraid we’re going to see countless “mini-billboards” 😦

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