Vanity plate — A license plate that has letters or numbers chosen by the owner of the vehicle. – Merriam Webster
Today I salute the South Dakota Department of Revenue.
Why place the often despised tax collector on a pedestal? Because, as it turns out, this agency is one of the last bastions of civilized society. While our ears are bombarded in the movies, television and the internet with obscenities and profanities, our eyes are spared these assaults when we drive down the highway and see personalized license plates.
You can order one for $25, plus the regular license plate fee, but it must pass the Department of Revenue standard, which, boiled down, is as follows:
The department may refuse a message that does not meet standards of good taste. No vulgar words, terms, or abbreviations may be used and the characters used cannot express or imply a profane, obscene, or sexual meaning.
No disrespect of race, religion, color, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or political affiliation is allowed. Also, no words or terms that support unlawful activities or illegal drugs will be permitted.
Who makes the decision?
The burden rests primarily on Bobbie Severson, who uses dictionaries, online sources and even the “urban dictionary” to determine if a personalized plate message meets the benchmark.
What also is used, according to agency spokesman Jonathan Harms, is a “good dose of old-fashioned common sense.”
In 2015, there were 6,761 requests for personal plates and about 5 percent – 337 – were withdrawn or denied.
Perhaps the most famous case was in 2007 when a request was placed for “MPEACHW,” aimed at President George Bush.
The plate was issued and the blow-up over protected political speech sold many newspapers.
Some denials: Texasex, 4 play, and others I won’t list because this is a family newspaper.
Truly questionable requests are sent up through the ranks to the director, Harms said.
What is “good taste” to one person may be offensive to another. Still, a common understanding remains, which brings to mind Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous statement about pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
That’s why we are spared seeing personalized license plates with the “f” word or even the “p” word. Though these words are more and more common in public conversation and may not offend everyone, they still offend enough of us that the Department of Revenue is able to keep the standard high.
I’m thinking about ordering my own vanity plate: mediaguy.
Oops. Won’t work. There is a seven letter limit.