What Are Digital License Plates and How Do They Work?

This week, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) announced that it has approved the use of digital license plates for commercial vehicles.

The move expands the nascent industry, which is being led by startup Reviver, which provides them in personal and commercial capacities.

"We are very excited to make digital license plates available for commercial vehicles in Texas," Reviver executive vice president of sales CJ Meurell said in a press release. "Vehicle fleets are one of the biggest capital investments that many companies make, and they are notoriously difficult and time-consuming to manage. We believe digital license plates can play an important role in providing solutions for businesses."

For personal use, Reviver makes the RPlate. Commercial businesses are offered the RFleet.

Digital License Plates
A customizable digital plate at the rear of a Maserati. Reviver

These plates are currently available in California, Arizona, Michigan and Texas. They're also legal to use in all 50 states.

But what are these plates, how do they differ from traditional plates, and should you get one? Here's a rundown.

What are digital license plates?

In development since 2009, Reviver has produced license plates that are customizable to an extent, trackable and make renewing registrations an easier process.

The digitized plates, according to the company, allow for greater control and convenience over your plate and the DMV registration and renewal process.

Digital License Plates
For hardwiring the plate into your car's electrical system, a professional installation is needed. Reviver

Either battery-powered or wired directly into your car's electrical system, the plates have a monochromatic HD display that can display your customized license plate if your registration is up to date or an "invalid" sign if out of date.

For the battery-powered option, the battery lasts five years.

How much do they cost?

A number of factors determine what you'll end up paying for your plate. A battery-powered or hardwired version both start at $19.95 per month for a 48 month subscription or $215.40 for a four-year plan.

Then there's the installation. If you opt for the battery-powered option, it doesn't cost extra since you install it yourself. Having the plate integrated into your car's electrical system requires a professional installation, which costs $99.

Digital License Plates
A Toyota FJ Cruiser in California sports a digital license plate. Reviver

On the commercial side, prospective customers are told to reach out to the company for a customized quote.

There's also the added fee that states charge for a new plate. In Michigan and Arizona, drivers are charged $5 while California charges $23.

How do you activate it?

After your plate is delivered, you have to go through a multi-step process for activation before you can install it.

First, you have to download an app from the Apple or Google Play store. Then, you create an account and register your license plate number through the app. With your registration card and driver's license, you can activate your digital plate.

Digital License Plates
A digital license plate on a Chevrolet Bolt EV fleet vehicle. Reviver

The company says that you should wait for your DMV's approval of your use of the digital plate before installing it, which could take 1-3 days.

How can it benefit fleets?

Reviver says that assigning digital plates to a company's fleet vehicles can reduce time spent on compliance measures and improve their operations with added data points.

With the RFleet plates, businesses can streamline their plate renewal process so that none of their service vehicles go unregistered. It also adds telematic data like location monitoring in real time, mileage tracking and geofencing.

Should I get a digital license plate?

If you live in California, Arizona and Michigan, it may be worth considering if you can stomach the monthly fee. In Texas and the other states, research the benefits of digitizing your fleet and the data that's generated from it.

Reviver has said that it's looking to expand into other states, including Georgia. Regulators in other states are also looking into approving digital license plates. So if you want to make the switch but it's not in your area yet, keep an eye on your state's DMV for future updates.