Guardians of good taste

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So you want a vanity license plate? Take note: You just can’t say anything you want. The word crew is watching.

    The Department of Motor Vehicles keeps a close watch on what you’re trying to say on those plates and if you get too racy, your effort won’t travel far. 

    Good for the DMV. License plates are no place for Virginia residents to slip their filth into the public domain.

    According to a story this week in the Virginian-Pilot, 20 folks meet once a month to “sit around a table and think dirty.” Their mission, according to the story, “outwit the commonwealth’s cleverest foul minds.”

    This “Word Committee” applies itself to figuring out just what somebody is trying to say with their personalized plate.

    And there is plenty to consider. According to the DMV, about one in every seven vehicles on the road has a vanity plate — the most in the country. The program generates close to $10 million a year for the state coffers. And those asking for them are clever — and sometimes cleverly vulgar.

    The DMV word crew looks for a variety of issues, “character combinations that are vulgar, offensive, sexually explicit, excretory related, or promote violence or illegal activities - like drug use or gangs,” the story states. While some never get past the regular DMV counter, others are sent for a second look. First they’re run through a computer program that attempts to decipher any hidden filth, then on to the Word Committee.

    Screening the vanity plate requests takes a village — a committee of folks from all walks of life representing a cross-section of society, the story states.

    “Our job is to look at the combination as if it’s driving down the road,” a DMV representative told the paper. “We discuss what it could be, and one person’s interpretation can be very different from another’s.”

    Last year 726 plate requests were rejected. Most couldn’t be printed here, but the V-P story did give a sampling: “Around 120 involved some shorthand for the ‘F-word,’ followed by letters aimed at a range of targets - an ex’s initials, ALYAL, OBAMA, even DADMV. H8 was also a popular prefix - as in H8VICK - and CMY (see my... fill in the blank).” Other rejects included “BITETHS, IHAV2P, LVVODKA, PMPNVAN, IGETHI, AHCRAAP, and a whole batch of applications containing the letters SUX. URNBRED and USTUPID were voted down as well.”

    Those that don’t agree with a plate that’s rejected can appeal, all the way up to circuit court, if they want. For some, vulgarity is worth the expense. That’s unfortunate.

    Even with the DMV’s efforts, some plates still slip through the cracks. But there’s a remedy for that too. If you spot an offensive plate, write down what’s on the tag, report it to the DMV with why you think it’s offensive.. E-mail your complaint through www.dmv.state.va.us, call (804) 497-7100 or mail to Specialty Plates, DMV, 2300 W. Broad St., Richmond, VA 23220.