EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Unbeknownst to Indiana motorists, a thin red line prevents drivers from seeing vehicles with license plates such as “yoda666” or “D00BIE” on their commute.
It’s called the personalized license plate review committee with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
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The 40-plus member committee consists of Indiana BMV workers who accept or deny requests for personalized vanity plates based on pre-established criteria set forth by Indiana state code. Melissa Hook, communications director for the BMV, said workers may reject a plate submission if it:
- Carries a connotation offensive to good taste and decency
- Would be misleading
- The bureau considers it improper
Plate requests are assigned to workers randomly, who examine both the text of the submission itself as well as an image of how the plate would appear.
“If a plate is denied, the individual requesting the plate is sent a letter and instructed how to request a new plate with personalization, request an appeal hearing, or request a standard plate,” Hook said.
Customers looking to request an administrative hearing, Hook said, must do so through the Indiana Office of Administrative Law Proceedings.
Hook said in 2021, there were 54,118 plate requests submitted to the BMV and 98.6% of those requests were approved.
Plenty of others, though, were rejected.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Courier & Press obtained a list of all the rejected plate submissions collected by the Indiana BMV in 2021.
The rejected plates
It’s easy to see why most of them were denied. They run the gamut from toilet humor (“I POOPED”) to the profane to the demonic (“4SATAN”).
Roughly 63 rejected plates made allusions to parts of the human body not normally discussed or seen in public. Too vague? Here are two examples: “PENIS” and “TEETS2.”
Some plate requests simply aimed at expressing Indiana pride (“mdwst af”), while others proffered a love for certain alcoholic beverages (“CO1T45”). The latter could even be a tribute to Indianapolis Colts linebacker E.J. Speed, who wears #45 for Indy.
In addition to rejecting personalized plates during the submission stage, Hook said the BMV has a “standard process” that enables the agency to revoke an already-approved plate if they receive five or more complaints about it. The customer would then be notified about alternative plate options, Hook said.
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She noted that any plate request with a political bent or affiliation is subject to the same criteria as any of the other requests. That’s why relatively benign plate requests like “45 POTUS” got rejected along with more overt ones, like “BDN SCKS.”
Considering how tribalistic the people of Indiana are when it comes to college basketball teams, there was a surprising lack of submissions expressing anti-IU, anti-Purdue or even anti-Notre Dame feelings. When the Courier & Press inquired about those types of plates, Hook said the BMV could not speculate on any specific requests or trends, but that all submissions were judged by the same standard.
Each submission must adhere to a specific format in order to get approved, which can be found on the BMV’s website. The plate must only consist of numbers, letters and non-consecutive spaces and can’t exceed 8 total characters (six on motorcycles), but must have more than two.
Motorcycles, passenger vehicles, RVs and trucks that weigh less than 11,000 pounds are eligible for personalized plates. If a plate is approved, it has to be re-registered each year for its owner to retain it.
Personalized plate fees are $45. It’s a small price to pay for your license plate to read “sexy pam” or “DR D00M.” But those submissions, too, were rejected.