The rules: You can’t put just anything on your vanity plate

The state keeps a “banned list” of character combinations that will automatically be denied.

A sample Washington license plate. (State Department of Licensing)

A sample Washington license plate. (State Department of Licensing)

Personalized plates can be a combination of letters, numbers, hyphens or spaces, up to seven characters long, or up to six characters for smaller motorcycle and trailer plates.

The most popular personalized plates are sports-related. Other popular picks are nicknames, or the name of the person’s car, said Jessie Knudsen, a spokeswoman for Washington State Licensing.

There are upfront costs. For a passenger vehicle, that’s $84.75. The plate must be renewed each year, with a $42 fee.

This is similar to specialty license plates, which have different backgrounds from the standard Mount Rainier vista and benefit various causes. Many people with specialty plates also personalize them, and they pay both fees.

No vulgar, racial, ethnic or indecent messages are allowed.

The state keeps a “banned list” updated, with pre-vetted combinations that will automatically be denied. Many refer to sex and certain body parts. Others refer to drugs, or translate to swear words.

“We are learning new slang all the time and try to incorporate as many languages as possible,” Knudsen said.

Sometimes things slip through the cracks.

The DOL’s special plate team is reviewing one that drew complaints. When placed alongside politically charged stickers, the combination of characters seemed to oppose having a black man in the White House.

“In context that personalized plate may have taken on a meaning that wasn’t apparent when the applicant submitted their request,” Knudsen said.

In situations where at least two people complain, the combination is retired in the next renewal cycle, she said.

If a requested plate combination is denied, it’s not always because the DOL has deemed it inappropriate. It may be that it’s simply already spoken for.

Decisions can be appealed.

“There are also a number of entries that have been brought out of retirement because a request was made, then appealed and ultimately determined that the combination no longer held the connotation that it once did,” Knudsen said.

One of those? “FARTS.”

“So, if you know anyone who’s been waiting on that plate, it’s fresh on the market,” she said.

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— Melissa Slager

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