WASHINGTON — The poetic and the pithy. The confusing and the cryptic. And sometimes — after slipping through word-scanning software and review teams at state agencies — the naughty and the downright nasty.
On any given day, there are thousands of vehicles with personalized license plates — or vanity plates — hitting the roads in the D.C. area. In Maryland, you might spot a BRATBUS or a THISGUY zipping by.
In D.C., don’t be surprised if you’re sharing the road with a 6FTDIVA, someone’s DREMCAR or a FLYCHK.
There are well more than 1 million vanity license plates across D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Motorists wishing to draw attention with a seven-character shoutout pay as much as $100 to have their favored phrase grace their ride.
Just last week, a Virginia man vowed to challenge the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles in court after the agency rejected his vanity plate reading “FTR UMPK” (Keep reading for even more political vanity plate no-nos in D.C., Maryland and Virginia).
Last year, a Maryland man sued in a case that went all the way to the state’s highest court to keep his vanity plate that had been emblazoned with Spanish profanity. He ended up losing his case.
Through records requests, WTOP sought information on personalized license plates in D.C. Maryland and Virginia, both those that had been approved — and the eye-popping, not-anywhere-close-to-safe-for-work vanity plates that had been rejected. We also conducted interviews with officials at each of three agencies about the process for approving vanity plates and how they draw the line between the funny and foul.
Common themes: Politics, traffic and bacon
D.C. and Maryland provided lists — totaling more than 80,000 entries — of the approved and active vanity plates in their respective jurisdictions. The Virginia DMV said it was unable to provide the full list of approved vanity plate messages citing technical limitations with their record-keeping systems, but the DMV did provide a list of plates recently rejected in the state.
What did we find?
This being the Washington area, of course some drivers use their license plates to sound off about politics.
References to the 45th president abound. In Maryland — where President Donald Trump won just 33 percent of the vote — there’s TRUMP, TRUMP1, TRUMPY, and TRUMP16.
Meanwhile, in D.C., where Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won 90 percent of the vote, it’s probably not surprising you’d see IMWHER and IMWTHER, two apparent references to her campaign slogan.
Other approved plates seem to have been inspired by Trump’s rhetorical flourishes. In D.C., there’s a YUGE plate — a phonetical rendering of the president’s preferred pronunciation of “huge.” And in Maryland, you’ll see BDHMBRE — a term Trump coined during the presidential campaign to describe some immigrants who cross the border illegally.
There are limits to vanity-plate political discourse.
Both Maryland and Virginia have rejected FUTRUMP and FKTRUMP (and similar variations) as well as DJTSUX, FUGOP and “GOPWTF.” Lest you suspect any partisan bias on the part of motor-vehicle bureaucrats, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration rejected KILLARY, FKHLRY and FQHLRY as well as FUOBAMA and FNOBAMA.
Another running theme in license-plate form: D.C.’s terrible traffic and gripes about other drivers.
In Maryland, you’ll see GAS IT, GO FAST, and OMGMOVE. Then there’s IAMSL0W, IH8TRFK and TRAFSUX. Also, the unfortunate (but approved) HITNRUN.
Remember your manners, though. GTFOVER was rejected in Maryland and GOMFGO and MIDFNGR got the kibosh in Virginia.
Virginia authorities also nixed the plate DMVWTF, which could very well be a message to the agency responsible for handing out license plates or to the region as a whole.
Food passions frequently pop up on vanity plates. You’ll spot a BACON plate in D.C. and an MMBACN plate in Maryland. As do celebrities — and even celebrity families. There’s BEY0NCE in Maryland and BLUEIVY in D.C.
Is your plate ONFLEEK?
Modern slang crops up, too.
Maryland drivers have already snagged plates reading BYEFLCA, DAD B0D, HSHTAG, TURNTUP and ONFLEEK. In D.C., you’ll spot YOLO and BOIBYE plates.
But some of the new slang terms are too risqué. And be warned, envelope-pushers: DMV employees are likely regular readers of UrbanDictionary.com.
Among the list of plates rejected by the Virginia DMV are: YOUTHOT, WELIT and CUTEAF. Also on the rejected list: NOFX, OUTAFUX, ZEROFG and seemingly every possible permutation of the trendy phrase used to describe a state of extreme indifference to a particularly trying or aggravating situation.
Who’s the vainest of them all?
In the D.C. region, who’s the vainest of them all?
That’s Virginia, where more than 1 million license plates carry personalized messages — accounting for more than 12 percent of all plates registered in the state. In fact, at one time, Virginia had the highest per capita rate of vanity license plates in the country, according to a survey conducted by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
In D.C., about 5,300 — or just under 2 percent — of the 303,000 registered plates are personalized. And in Maryland, only about 1 percent of license plates — about 75,000 out of 5 million total registered plates — are vanity plates.
“Our personalized plate program in Virginia — what is commonly referred to as a vanity plate — is extremely popular,” said Brandy Brubaker, a spokeswoman with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
Part of that has to do with the low price point. A vanity plate in Virginia is just $10 more than a standard registration — compared with $50 in Maryland and $100 in D.C.
“So, a lot of people take advantage of that and use it to have a little fun with their license plate and put some sort of message on there that means something to them, whether it be their nickname or their kid’s name or maybe even just a saying that they find amusing,” Brubaker said.
What makes the rejected list?
OK, so now maybe you’re inspired to try your hand at crafting your own personalized plate and let’s say you have a penchant for pushing the envelope.
Vanity plate regulations in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia all bar sexually explicit, vulgar and obscene phrases.
All three jurisdictions employ software programs or automated lists to weed out patently offensive applications. Think anything with the F word (sometimes just the letter F), body parts and bodily functions.
In Virginia, license plate applications that are automatically flagged by the software then go before a review board made up of about 20 DMV employees.
“We have people from all different parts of the agency, different parts of the state on this committee, different ages so that we’ve got all the lingo covered there … Most of the time, it’s a new type of slang or text abbreviations and things like that,” Brubaker said. “So having some younger people on the committee helps catch that.”
The Maryland MVA also makes use of a review committee to examine applications that have been flagged for possible offensive content.
In Maryland, where plates are manufactured at correctional institutions, sometimes a no-no isn’t spotted until the last minute — when it’s heading down the production line.
Rick Ostopowicz, director of external affairs for the Maryland MVA, told WTOP he has heard of cases where an inmate literally stops the presses to “bring it to our attention that the plate would have some sort of connotation in popular culture that would be offensive to some people.”
Take a look at the full list of rejected vanity plates in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia and at some point you’ll probably start to wonder why anyone would want to drive around with a license plate reading SHARTED (rejected in Virginia); FARTMAN (rejected in D.C.); or BEDWETR (rejected in Maryland).
Motor vehicle agency officials admit they’re pretty stumped.
“Has it crossed my mind, personally? Yes, I would wonder why someone would want something like that on their vehicle, but everybody has their own tastes,” Ostopowicz told WTOP.