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California mulls digital number plates with adverts to tackle deficit...

California is considering using digital car number plates, which would switch to advertisements when vehicles were stuck in traffic, as a way to raise money to tackle its $19 billion (£12.8 billion) budget deficit.

The electronic number plates would look like standard number plates when the car was in motion, showing the registration number.

But when a car stopped for more than four seconds, in a jam or at a red light, scrolling adverts would be displayed to people sitting in the vehicles behind. Advertisers would buy space from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

Drivers would also be able to have their plates show personal messages, such as the name of their favourite sports team.
 
Obscene messages would not be allowed and a section of the plate would continue to show the registration number at all times.
 
In emergencies, the plates could also be used to display public service announcements like missing children alerts, or traffic information.

Curren Price, a California state senator, said California was trying to be the first US state to introduce the technology. A bill being considered by state politicians would allow for safety tests ahead of its introduction.

Mr Price said: "We're just trying to find creative ways of generating additional revenues. It's an exciting marriage of technology with need, and an opportunity to keep California in the forefront."

A company called Smart Plate in San Francisco is developing the number plates and envisions them not just as a new outlet for advertisers, but also for drivers.

M Conrad Jordan, the company's chief executive, said: "The idea is not to turn a motorist's vehicle into a mobile billboard, but rather to create a platform for motorists to show their support for existing good working organisations."