Jan 21, 2022 - News

Why vanity license plates in Colorado were rejected in 2021

Colorado license plate with symbols implying a swear word.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

If your application for a vanity license plate was RJCTD last year, you're not ALON.

Driving the news: More than 25,000 submissions for vanity license plates in Colorado were denied in 2021, according to records obtained by Axios Denver.

  • Most of the rejected plates contained sexual, violent, drug-related or racist references, including more than a dozen nodding to white supremacy groups.
  • Some spoke to the politics of our time, while others were just plain childish.

Why it matters: The lengthy list offers an unsettling β€” but sometimes hilarious β€” glimpse into the minds of the drivers around you.

How it works: The Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles' processing system, DRIVES, automatically sifts out questionable plates by referencing a database of offensive or omitted character combinations from the past, agency spokesperson Derek Kuhn tells Axios.

  • When someone puts forward a personalized plate, the system cross-references the request with the list.
  • If it's on the list, it's vetoed. If a partial match is found, the system sends the desired plate to DMV officials to manually review.

For the manual check, state officials throw out any that "carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency, are misleading, or duplicate any other license plate" that may have slipped through the system.

The criteria: Plates that are sexual in nature; disparage a religion or religious being; disparage an ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation; include a trademark or copyright; or reference criminal activity or drugs and alcohol likely won't make the cut.

Context: The offensive and omitted list has been built using recommendations from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, other states' lists and known offensive terms, Kuhn says.

  • These words are reviewed by a committee, and the list is updated when new, offensive phrases are identified. Terms can be removed by committee vote or through a court order.

Be smart: Up to seven characters are permitted for most vehicles, and only six for motorcycles. Permissible characters include upper case letters in the English alphabet, numbers excluding zero, blank spaces, dashes and periods.

  • Although spaces, dashes and periods count as characters β€” they don't change the license plate's configuration. That means if ABC is taken, then A B C, A-B-C, and A.B.C. are also taken.

In our review of the thousands of denied vanity plates, here are the themes and interesting submissions that caught our eye.

  • The political: QANON, PUTIN, ACAB
  • The down and out: LIFESUX, NUMB, NOFNGAS, ISAD, WORKSUX, WOES, SCREWED, LUVSUX
  • The substance-related: DOOBEE, HIGH, RLN*HRD, WEED, SAUCED, ON*METH, ECSTAZE
  • The Spanish submissions: HUEVOS, CABRONA, PENDEJO, CHUPAPI
  • The confident: BALLER, IBAD, MISSSLAY, IFLY, 1BADAZZ, THEBOMB, IDGAF
  • The demanding: OBEY, HONK, HUSH, SMELME, MONIPLZ, COOK, MOONME, ZIPITUP
  • TMI: IFARTED, SKNYDPR, MPOTENT, IHAVE2P, IAMNUDE
  • The random: ABOOBOO, HECK, NOCURFU, OHMYGAWD, WTFCOLO, MANOPOZ

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.

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