A few things about personalized license plates

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Personalized plate

Those contemplating a personalized license plate, bear in mind it will be subject to some degree of review. Photo Credit: CJ Sorg/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA

Every so often, some contemplate getting personalized license plates, whether to be unique like everyone else or perhaps to be amusing. There’s certainly nothing wrong, but there are a few things one should bear in mind about custom license plates.

Yes, personalized license plates are subject to review

Car and Driver recently published an article on its website, featuring an interview with Melanie Stokes, a member of the Word Committee, part of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The Word Committee’s title, as Car and Driver notes, has some Orwellian overtones to its title, naturally, but it’s task is to approve personalized license plates submitted by Virginians for adornment on their cars.

Virginia’s Word committee is one of 50 such bodies, all of which review the personalized license plates submitted for approval, which has to be granted for custom license plates before a person can stick them on the front and back of their car.

Trying to pull a fast one

One would think that since the driver is the one paying the car finance company, they should be able to put anything they want on their car. However, that lives in the world of “should be” rather than the world that “is,” so trying to get clever with a state DMV is not likely to pay dividends.

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As cute as one person might think it is to have some manner of obscenity on their license plate, not everyone agrees, hence the reviews. Each state, according to Esquire, sets its own rules and has its own lists of banned words and phrases for license plates. Lists of banned license plates are widely available, which can easily give one an idea that state review bodies do pay attention and will turn down a personalized license plate that is too risque.

The rules of what’s allowed and what isn’t naturally varies and can be totally arbitrary; for example, according to the Baltimore Sun, the Maryland DMV ruled a personalized plate reading “TOILET” was banned, but one reading “THEPUKE” was not. Likewise, “PIMP” was banned and “FATPIMP” was not.

Aside from the peanut gallery

However, mistakes can be made and most states do have an appeals process for people who believe their license plate was disallowed unjustly. Aside from submissions from the peanut gallery, people who want a personalized license plate will have to pay personalized license plate fees for their vanity plates.

There are, sometimes, unanticipated consequences. Aside from possibly having to deal with people who are offended by a message, innocent or not, other effects of custom plates have been observed, such as in the case of Danny White of Washington, D.C., according to Yahoo. White has vanity plates which read “NO TAGS,” which means that he receives a number of tickets every month for cars with no tags, i.e. no visible identification, from multiple states.


Car and Driver


Baltimore Sun


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