Local News

DMV is The Final Word on Vanity Plates

Posted February 21, 2000 6:00 a.m. EST

— What does your license plate say about you? For thousands of North Carolina drivers, personalized tags are a way to express themselves. However, there is a limit to that freedom of speech. TheDivision of Motor Vehiclesdecides which vanity plates make it on the road.

From hair color to hot dogs, more than 160,000 personalized plates grace the backs of North Carolina's cars and trucks.

As Director of Vehicle Registration, Carol Howard says the DMV has to walk a fine line between what is freedom of speech and what is offensive.

"We get a lot of foreign phrases that stand for body parts. So, it's difficult sometimes," says Howard.

Like many states, DMV uses a computer program which blocks out most profanity and vulgar language. If the plate makes it past that test, workers may turn to a slang dictionary for extra help.

"Occasionally one slips through," admits Howard, who says her office often fields complaints from the public about some plates that make it on the road.

Sometimes, the DMV will not renew tags that may have been missed in the the initial screening. Howard says it is hard to please everyone.

"One that we got a complaint on was LEGGS. Now, why anyone would worry about that? The man happened to work for the L'eggs hosiery company," she says.

Richard Vanderford of Chatham Countyhas made newswith his ARYAN plate, but the Attorney General cleared it himself.

"He felt like it was a freedom of speech issue there. The plate was deemed to be descriptive and not necessarily offensive," Howard says.

Ultimately, the DMV strives to give motorists the freedom to express themselves, as long as it is within the lines of good taste.