Digital Licence Plates (Trials in the USA)

What is a digital licence plate?

A digital licence plate is a plate with a fully electronic digital display very similar to a tablet or Kindle e-book reader, showing your registration number on a backlit screen with other relevant information also displayed. They are connected to the electronics as they need their own power supply.

They also have 5G data and GPS connections which can be connected to a smartphone app. This enables the vehicle to be tracked (if it is ever stolen) and its real-time location.

These plates don’t come cheap, currently starting at $599 for a battery-powered plate, plus $75 a year for other features. Theirs is also a hardwired version that has a lot more functions that costs $749 plus and installation charge of $150 and then it’s $95 a year for the connected services plan. The licence plate needs to renew annually if this isn’t renewed the display will be invalid. Drivers are also able to add a personal message to the bottom of the plate, but surely there are certain restrictions that will not allow the message to be offensive in any way.

Trials of digital licence / number plates have already been approved in all 50 US states as well as Canada and Mexico, although they’re currently only approved for sale in Arizona, California, and Michigan, they are also legal in Texas but only on commercial fleet vehicles. Ford is the first and only manufacturer to offer the plates as an optional extra when you buy a new car, other manufacturers are likely to follow Ford's lead.


When will we see them in the UK?

It has been a legal requirement for vehicles to display a number plate in the United Kingdom since 1903. Historically pressed metal plates were used up to the end of 1960's where black and silver plates were the norm before eventually being replaced with white front & yellow rear reflective plates in 1973 and still stands today.

The UK’s private number plate system operates very differently to how the US systems work from one state to another. The UK system is national for the entire country and all vehicle records maintained by the Government department DVLA in Swansea. They are frequently traded through a second-hand marketplace with a number of Cherished Number plates dealers or online auction, or social media platforms or new unissued registrations can be purchased from DVLA personalised registrations, and the BCA run DVLA auctions. Some personalised number plates can be purchased from as little as  £275 all-inclusive and once on a vehicle require no further costs.

Every time a private number is taken off a vehicle (prior to sale) a fee of £80 is paid to DVLA to retain the mark and can then be assigned to another vehicle free of charge.

Although it might be sometime before the UK system adopts digital number plates, it could be a good initiative from an environmental point of view and something we do hear more about in the future.



Advantages of Digital plates

There are some definite advantages to using a digital plate on your vehicle, including:


Security & access

If removed from the vehicle, the plate could shut itself off or display “STOLEN”, deterring would-be thieves.

A digital plate could interface directly with security systems such as car park barriers or other properties, allowing access and instant payment.



A digital plate could allow the registration number to be updated instantly without needing to renew the whole plate. People who purchase personalised registration numbers would benefit the most from this.

Additional security would be needed and most definitely a central hub like a connection to DVLA, otherwise owners could simply change their registration number at their leisure.



Digital plates can be recycled onto another vehicle when discarded, sold or unwanted, unlike our current acrylic number plate. Also components can be recovered and recycled.



Disadvantages of digital plates

Unfortunately, as with everything there are quite a few disadvantages which make them less convenient, including:



The digital plates currently on the market in the USA are in excess of $599, compared to the UK where replacement number plates cost around £30 for a pair. Plus, there is the annual charge.



Digital plates are electronic devices like your phone or tablet, but much simpler. As such, they are vulnerable to hacking and bugs in the hardware & software.



A plate that requires a power supply is by design less reliable than a traditional plate. What if the power cables or connections get damaged and the display turns off? You’ll have no plates!

If the plate is ‘on’ all the time, it drains the battery. Some people don’t drive all that often so it is not inconceivable that a large, bright LED display on the front & back of your car could drain the battery.

Furthermore, if the plate is ‘off’ when you switch off the engine, your car won’t be displaying any registration marks which is illegal. Your vehicle must be permanently affixed with registration plates while on public roads.



As we all know, being an electronic device, they do sometimes default or blackout and will need some maintenance. This will include making sure there are no cracks or damage to the screen, always keeping the software up to date and also the cleaning of the digital display.

They may also be more vulnerable to pressure washers, car washes, ice, stone chips, screens cracking, and generally getting dirty.

Additionally, wrong doers could easily crack the display, making the plate unreadable and in need of an expensive replacement.



Digital plates may be harder to read and more difficult for cameras to detect. Bright sunlight makes digital displays harder to see even when they’re in the palm of your hand, so the display would need to be very bright and of a high enough resolution to show crisp and clear registration marks.



Regular plates just need to be drilled and screwed in. Digital plates on the other hand need to be connected to your car’s battery, with wires being routed and concealed under the carpets and body work.

Unless a digital plate is self-contained and pre-programmed with your data, it may also need to connect to the vehicle’s computer (ECU) or some other system.


Are digital plates legal in the UK?

As they don’t currently exist in the UK, the question of the legality of digital plates is somewhat irrelevant. Digital plates as they exist in the USA would not be road legal in the UK as they are not built to comply with our regulations.

The main reason digital plates are not possible in the UK is because our number plates must be retroreflective – they must meet very specific reflectivity and luminance requirements. Reflectivity is not possible with a digital LED display, so any plate made this way would not be compliant with the regulations.

Regulations can certainly change to incorporate a digital plate, but there would need to be some major benefits and quite a bit of pressure on DVLA and parliament to get those changes made. Unfortunately, the benefits of digital plates aren’t very compelling at this stage and some of the benefits such as the possible security features could be incorporated into other parts of your car for a much lower cost.




Digital plates are available in most states in the USA but have been rejected in others. They are expensive and offer some possible benefits over traditional plates, but there are quite a few disadvantages.

A digital plate could never outlast a traditional acrylic or aluminium plate. Stone chips, cracks, ice damage and general wear and tear will break a digital device quickly.

The regulations for number plates in the United Kingdom prevent the use of a digital display altogether since they must be retroreflective – a feature not possible with digital LED displays.

While interesting, the disadvantages seem to outweigh the benefits of a digital plate and it is unlikely we are going to see them on our roads any time soon.


Looking to buy a private number plate?

Take a look on our website at the thousands and thousands of private number plates to suit all budgets with prices starting at just £275, it is a perfect & unique gift for everybody.

Click the link or press our logo to go back to the home page to begin your number plate journey!

Or if you would like to speak to someone you can call our team Mon-Fri 9am to 6pm at 01995 213112 or click here to contact us!


Looking to sell a private number plate?

Alternatively, if you have a registration plate and are looking to sell or know someone who might you can click here to go to our sell page or give our team a call on 01995 213112.


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