Vanity plates are considered a form of free expression, and a personalized touch for a personal vehicle, well within one's basic human rights. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There have been cases when the State has had to intervene and ban particular vanity plates, because of offensive content. For instance, there was one case when the Department of Licensing received a seemingly harmless request for vanity plate number "3M3TIB." She paid the additional $50 dollars, and all was well.
However, a policeman later reported the plate. Apparently, it read "BITEME" when read in the rear view mirror. The Department of Licensing had to pull out the plate, though the owner said that was not her intention. For her, the plate was symbolic for "3 Munchkins 3 times I believed (3M3TIB)" and was a personal expression of her own deep love and gratitude for her family. The Department of Licensing didn't buy her story, and "3M3TIB" joined the list of banned vanity license plates.
A vanity license plate will only become a banned license plate if it contains profanity or sexual innuendo, is vulgar or profane, or is possibly misleading. In a way, this was what made the "3M3TIB" argument moot and academic. The owner may have had an innocent reason for it, but the other drivers wouldn't know that. Some banned vanity license plates are 2FNCUTE and BAMF ("Bad Ass MoFo"). Interestingly, the vanity license plates SATAN and NICEPKG were reported, but not banned.
Any complaints or reports are sent to the Department of Licensing, which meets every few months to review the plates submitted for review within that period.
Particularly mischievous, or downright stubborn, vanity license plate owners try to escape detection by using foreign words. One example is the word "Cabron." The owner said it just meant "California Bronze" but anyone who's familiar with Spanish can tell you that it's slang for "bitch" or "asshole." Literally, though, it means male goat.
Another banned license plate was "XPEHBAM," which-upon consultation with an expert in Slavic languages-turned out to be a cuss word that more or less meant "up America's ass."
Of course, all banned vanity license plate owners have an opportunity to contest the decision and appeal against its cancellation. In some cases, the owners win. This was the case of one plate number "0241", or "I420" backwards. Apparently the phrase had some meaning associated with smoking pot. The owner, however, said this was just the production line number of his limited edition Volkswagen. Fact-checkers found out he was right, and the ban was lifted.
If this appeal fails, or they simply give in, then the owner can change the vanity plate to a more socially acceptable one, or get a full refund.
How, then, does the Licensing Department decide whether or not an appeal is worthy of being considered? A great deal depends on the sincerity and plausibility of the story, and whether the owner can immediately and consistently explain its personal meaning. If the explanation is outlandish, or if the owner and a partner start arguing about the symbolism, the committee acts on instinct that they are being given the run-around.
One plate, marked "UFNWISH" was defended by the owner, a military man who said that "UFN" was slang for "until further notice." He justified the plate, saying the car was just something he was keeping till he got his dream car. Unfortunately, the car in question was a late model red coupe-hardly an "UFN" car by normal people's standards.
The owner of the banned vanity license plate "DOBEE" on the other hand successfully defended her decision, saying it was related to her grandmother's favorite advice: "Be a do bee, not a don't be."
The Licensing Department also has its own resources about words and phrases to watch out for. This includes Google, the Urban Slang dictionary (urbandictionary.com), and a network of young friends who can clue them in on the new generation's slang.