Can you refuse a DMV-issued license plate if it's offensive to you?
August 3, 2017 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Can a person refuse a license plate issued by the DMV (in other words, not a personalized plate) if they are offended by the sequence of letters and numbers?

This morning I was driving behind a car that had a three-letter Romani slur as the first part of its license plate. (Unpersonalized plates in New York state follow an ABC-1234 format.)

If a person refused to accept that plate when they received it at the DMV, what would happen? Would the DMV say "tough, take it", or would they issue a plate that did not contain the problematic lettering/numbering (which might not be possible, depending if the stack of plates they have goes ABC-1234, ABC-1235, ABC-1236, etc)?

I tried googling it but all the results seem to be about the DMV rejecting personalized license plate requests.
posted by Lucinda to Law & Government (12 answers total)
(I meant to say that the word was a three-letter slur about Romani people. Sorry if that wasn't clear.)
posted by Lucinda at 10:13 AM on August 3, 2017

Personal anecdote, but in NYS, I was given the opportunity to turn down taking a plate with 666 as part of it.
posted by kellyblah at 10:19 AM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Another anecdote: at the California DMV the clerks I saw were willing to accommodate customers who did not want numbers that were considered bad luck in Chinese culture and allowed customers to check the plate before accepting it to see if it had good luck numbers.

For what it's worth, the stack of plates seemed to be numbered randomly and not sequentially.
posted by bbq_ribs at 10:41 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anecdotal: my grandmother was a title clerk in the auto/RV industry for about 30 years total, in California and Washington. There were many times that clients would refuse a plate number because of an alphanumeric combination they didn't like, and in fact the owner of the last dealership she worked for refused to accept any plates with 666 in the mix at all because so many customers had refused them. The WA DOL office that my grandmother worked with in the course of that job made accommodations for that refusal, and I don't know if that was some sort of official policy or just a professional courtesy for a particularly large client.
posted by palomar at 11:01 AM on August 3, 2017

Another anecdote: when I was given my current plate, the DMV worker was handing me one, then he glanced at it and said, "You don't want that one, I'll give you a better one" and reached for a different one to give me. I have no idea what was "wrong" with the first one, but I gathered that (here in CT, at least) the plates aren't given out in any particular order or matched to a specific customer or anything. I'm pretty sure if he'd given me the first one and I'd told him I wanted another, he'd have given me another without a second thought.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:36 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yet another anecdote: In Tennessee, late '80s or early '90s, I was given the opportunity to turn down a plate with 666 on it. (I gleefully accepted it, but that's beside the point.)
posted by straw at 11:53 AM on August 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

In Michigan, I was not offered the chance to refuse a VAG plate, not that I would have. But the letter part did seem to have had a run, based on the number of VAG twins around town.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:16 PM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've wondered about this in Michigan as I've seen an increasing number of DJT plates (which I would trade for VAG in a heartbeat).
posted by kelborel at 1:12 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was given the option, if I recall correctly, to pick a license plate with a more pleasing set of numbers/letters out of the top few in a stack when I registered my car in Vermont. Pretty sure this was true also in Washington state and in Massachusetts.
posted by jessamyn at 2:43 PM on August 3, 2017

If you're collecting anecdotes, my brother got a plate that read GWM-[two digits that could have plausibly been his age], and while he didn't find it offensive, he thought it looked too much like a vanity plate, especially combined with his purple car, but he's not gay, and was afraid it'd lead to awkward encounters. (Actually, now that I think about it, he may have used it for a while, and it did lead to awkward encounters. It was a while back and I'm fuzzy about the specifics.)

Anyway, when he explained, they gave him a new one.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:53 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

My license plate's letter portion does indeed read GYP, and I am happy to cock my head and refuse to acknowledge that it spells anything sensical at all, when people try to joke that it somehow references the Romani people by way of a slur.

But that's me, not you, and if you don't want that to be your license plate that's totally a legit position to take. It's probably good for the DMV to hear that that three-letter combination is something potentially offensive, and regardless of whether they agree or think it's a big deal, will stil likely shuffle to the next letter combo without a fight.
posted by desuetude at 10:39 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Back when I worked for a state government I was assigned a project that had to do with license plates. There are controls in place so that certain combinations never even make it into circulation and generally those controls were considering strong and successful (which makes we wonder about the the 666 combination that I have recently seen here in MN as well)

The weak link in this process is that the employees making these control decisions where always middle aged or older, and had no idea about current abbreviations or what was the most current offensive slang.
posted by lstanley at 1:04 PM on August 4, 2017

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