BAD idea: digital license plates display ads to drivers

If there's one thing we don't need more of on the road right now, it's distractions. Yet a group in San Francisco is looking into the possibility of slapping digital license plates on cars. Rather than simply display your plate number on a sweet, scrolling marquee, the plates would display ads. Ads for other drivers to read.

In the interest of safety, right now ads wouldn't appear unless a motorist has been stopped for more than a few seconds. That means you probably wouldn't see an ad until you drive up behind someone at a stoplight. The adverts displayed would be picked by the driver, but the money earned would go to the state.

Sounds like a great deal, right? It's part of California's plan to put a dent in the $19 billion hole the state has found itself in. The folks behind the digital plates, Smart Plate, have until 2013 to assess what kind of risks, if any, it'd pose on the road, how much money could be accrued through the service, and have a working prototype.

As long as the ads stay off until cars are stopped, then we suppose that isn't so bad. It's weird to turn your vehicle into a shill when you're not seeing any of the cash, though. That, and — if these smart plates ever make it to the road — we can't wait to see one of these get hacked and display all kinds of crazy messages.