When Colorado officials turned down a resident’s request for a vanity number plate a few weeks ago, Dave Davies took note.
The Colorado woman, a vegan, wanted to declare her love for bean curd to the world with number plates that read "ILUVTOFU."
Problem is, for those with dirty(ish) minds, that acronym could be reinterpreted to mean something entirely different. So Colorado turned down the request, and Davies, the customer support program manager for the Driver and Vehicle Services division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, filed it in his head for future reference.
Just in case a Minnesota vegan got a similar idea.
"My vocabulary has grown in this job" admits Davies, who has worked for Driver and Vehicle Services for more than 30 years, and works closely with Heidi Hoffmann, who oversees requests for personalised number plates – sometimes known as vanity number plates.
There are currently 65,221 vanity number plates issued in Minnesota, out of 4 million licensed vehicles statewide. Last year, 9,867 vanity plates were issued.
And Minnesota drivers are creative in the ways they seek to express themselves on those number plates in just seven characters.
Hoffmann offers some examples: "IH8SNO" and "ILUVSNO" and "BRRRRR." There’s "NOTHIZ" on a car that might have been part of a divorce settlement, "RIP" on an old hearse, "I 1 IT" on a car that was a contest prize, and "SGLGRMA" and "HOTCHIC" that don’t really need a comment. There’s also "GR8BUNS" – on a bakery delivery truck in northern Minnesota, of course.
And then, Davies says, there was the Minnesota man who gave his wife a thoughtful Christmas present one year: personalised number plates that said "OLD BAT".
"She was in here the day after Christmas to return them" Davies adds, laughing.
If a resident complains about a personalised plate, Davies and Hoffmann do some investigation before deciding whether it should be revoked. Davies recalls one incident in which a woman became incensed over a personalised number plate that had the letter "J" in it. "She insisted that the ‘J’ stood for streetwalking," Davies remembers. "We do get citizens from all ends of the spectrum."
Minnesota law says only that a personalised number plates can’t be "obscene or immoral." But in today’s acronym-loving (and texting) society, there are some plate requests that slip past, in spite of the state’s best efforts.
In 2006, after receiving complaints about them, the state revoked the vanity number plates on the Freeborn County administrator’s car.
Those number plates read "FOAD1." The administrator insisted that it was an acronym for "Freedom offers America democracy," but officials – who had been clued in to its more offensive interpretation by those who complained about it – weren’t buying it. (The Minnesotan who owned plain "FOAD" number plates also was asked to remove them from his car.)
When the state revokes a plate, the owner is entitled to replacement number plates without the $100 initial fee for personalised plates. So the Freeborn County administrator suggested an alternative: He asked for plates that read "HMFICFC," saying that it stood for "Helping Minnesota farmers increase crops in Freeborn County."
But his political opponents complained about that one, too, telling officials that the acronym actually meant "Head mother (expletive) in charge of Freeborn County."
Occasionally, Davies and Hoffmann will confer with related experts about vanity number plate requests. Davies recalls asking the anti-defamation league if the requested plate "DAGO" was acceptable, or if it could be construed as a racial slur. The plate was rejected.
Technically, Davies oversees Minnesota’s "special" number plates – everything from vanity plates to plates declaring allegiance to one of 23 different colleges, plates owned by war veterans and plates on cars belonging to CB or amateur radio fans.
The state has 66 classes of special number plates, ranging from one currently issued Congressional Medal of Honor veteran plate to 144,365 "collector" plates.
Some specialty number plates die out naturally. For example, there are no more World War I veteran plates in the state; Davies says those have been gone since at least 1994. Minnesota is losing about 120 World War II veteran number plates a year: In 2003 there were 2,941 such plates issued, and there are now 2,258.
And Davies chuckles when telling a story about giving his parents "Celebrate Minnesota" number plates a few years ago.
"My mom was in her 70s, and she always drove 20 to 30 miles under the speed limit," he says. "She called me and said, ‘Everybody just loves those number plates.’
"I asked her how she knew that, and she said she’d been driving up north of Brainerd, and everyone was honking at her."
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