On the first day of 2018, someone (we presume in Northern Nevada) tried to immortalize their disdain for the Silver State’s largest city, Las Vegas, with a custom vanity plate.
Destined for a 1998 Chevrolet, the requester wanted the stamped aluminum plate that would officially identify their vehicle to read “IHA8VGS.”
In the custom plate application — a required form for all custom vanity plates in the state — the requester made no attempt to hide the meaning of their desired plate.
“I hate Vegas,” the person simply wrote in the provided space.
But IHA8VGS never made it onto Nevada’s roadways.
That custom plate, along with over 1,000 other vanity plates requested by Nevadans in 2018, was denied by a committee of Nevada Department of Motor Vehicle bureaucrats charged with approving or denying custom vanity plates.
The committee’s rub with IHA8VGS?
“It is derogatory to Las Vegas,” explained Kevin Malone, a public information officer for the Nevada DMV and a member of the committee.
Malone paused for a minute, rescanning the law that governs what is and what is not acceptable for a license plates; “It also can’t make a defamatory reference toward a person or group.”
“(Las Vegas) is a pretty big group, a diverse group, but a group nonetheless,” he said with a chuckle.
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Who gets to decide if a license plate is too dirty?
On guard against profanity, sexual innuendos, gang references and the occasional racist message, the committee reviews hundreds of the most salacious license plate applications submitted by Nevadans every year.
The committee is comprised of department heads and a handful of other DMV officials. They meet most every Tuesday, according to Sean McDonald, the DMVs central services administrator and a member of the committee.
“The meetings are definitely interesting to sit through,” McDonald said with a laugh.
The Reno Gazette Journal’s request to sit in on one of these meetings was “respectfully denied” by the DMV on grounds that a reporter’s presence might hamper free discussion on the plates.
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But per a list of all the plates that were denied in 2018 obtained by the RGJ, the group rejected a total of 1,013 custom plates last year.
Among those rejects are a host of obscure references, obscenities in other languages or things that can be interpreted as just unfortunate coincidences (like children’s initials that, when put together, create a sexual innuendo).
And sometimes, requesters appeared to do their best to dupe DMV staff and the committee by just flat-out lying on a plate application.
“A lot of times they will just make up something,” McDonald said. “When you start seeing these really long, detailed explanations it sometimes makes us look at it even closer.”
So what kind of plate usually gets rejected?
A common example of this were the multiple denied plates that attempted various ways to slip “a**hole” by reviewers by spelling the word backward.
In one of those applications, which requested “37OHSSA,” the requestor claimed the combination of letters and number was simply an “OSHA number,” but the committee saw through it.
Other dubious plate explanations included “BDAZMOM,” for “Brandon Alexanderz mom,” which was denied on grounds that it reads closer to “bad a** mom,” and “GVNOFK,” explained as “initials of my wife and kids,” but was denied for profanity.
The list of probable lies goes on:
“EJOH22A” (a**hole backwards, again) disguised as “random letters;”
“BJAYYY” explained away as “my son’s initials;”
And, among a laundry list more, “IH8TPPL” as an acronym for the alleged song lyrics “I HIeght (hate?) panda panda love.”
None of those explanations fooled the committee.
Those plates, along with the DMV’s reason for denying them, make for some colorful (and rather adult) reading.
In those 1,000-plus denials:
- 449 were denied for profanity
- 379 for sexual references or innuendos
- 128 were denied for drug references
- 27 for racial slurs
- And 21 for being inappropriate
- The remaining denials ranged from gang references (three of those) to being too vulgar (five of those)
Here’s how the Nevada vanity plate law works
This gang of DMV officials is not left to their own discretion to decide whether or not a particular custom plate will be approved. They’re guided by Nevada Administrative Code.
Aside from various limitations on what letters and numbers can be placed next to one another, the grounds for a plate denial are relatively straightforward.
A custom plate cannot:
- Express contempt, ridicule or superiority of race, ethnic heritage, religion or gender
- Contain any connotation that is sexual, vulgar, derogatory, profane or obscene
- Contain a direct or indirect reference to a drug, drug paraphernalia or a gang
- Make a defamatory reference to a person or group
But it turns out, according to McDonald, reading between the lines of that administrative code can be relatively tough — there’s some interpretation (and, we suspect, colorful Google searches) involved.
Custom plates are first reviewed by DMV staff who have the power to approve, deny or forward the plates to the committee for further review.
“The plates that usually make it up to us are the ones that are definitely pretty questionable,” McDonald said. “You can probably guess what comes through.”
The committee then put their heads together to try and suss out the true meaning of a requested plate.
Sometimes, the committee runs into plates where the requestor had the best of intentions — maybe they wanted their children’s initials on a plate — but when put together, those letters and numbers make for an unfortunate spelling.
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“We have an eye for it because that’s what we do, we look at these every week,” McDonald said. “Whereas the public may see something and not realize it can be perceived a different way.”
“So a lot of ways, we’re fending off something that could be problematic for someone driving down the street with a license plate that can be perceived totally different.”
For the price of a $41.50 initial fee and an extra $20 a year, you too can have your own Nevada personalized plate. The DMV even has a nifty online tool that lets you see if a combination of letters and numbers has already been taken.
But perverse requestors beware: McDonald, Malone and the rest of the DMV’s plate review committee are watching.