Vanity plates are a popular and convenient way for people to get a brief message across to the rest of the world. They’re like bumper stickers that don’t peel off. Not surprisingly, they are very popular in the United States. A 2007 study by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) concluded that there were 9.7 million vanity plates on the road. And according to the Federal Highway Administration, there were nearly 250 million registered vehicles in the U.S in 2005. That means close to 4% of all registered U.S. automobiles are sporting vanity plates.
The most prominent feature of a vanity plate is the clever letter and number selection one chooses. Some people use this as a chance to pledge their devotion to a sports team (“CWBYFAN”/”Cowboy Fan”), or as an opportunity to promote their business (“REAL ST8”/“Real Estate”). The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles offers you a site to check for available letter and number combinations.
In Texas, “specialty plate” refers to the style of the actual plate itself—the treatment, rather than the letters and numbers that are stamped. As with personalized plates, there’s a website where you can review available styles, colors, and logos. There’s a wide variety of options to choose from, everything from sports teams and universities to Texas organizations—even brands and logos! If you’re so inclined, you can get a license plate that boasts a can of Dr. Pepper, or a Mighty Fine Burger.
Rules and Guidelines
The DMV has fairly strict guidelines regarding what is, and what isn’t, allowed. The first consideration is “law enforcement legibility,” meaning that police must be able to clearly read the plate’s letters and numbers. In theory, if a clever driver were to order a plate with an alternating “1” and lowercase “L” pattern (“1l1l1l1”), it would be rejected due to its lack of readability. Nice try, though.
Another consideration is “reflectivity,” which simply means that the plate must be readable from a certain distance. This is important for spotting vehicles at night or off roads.
In the state of Texas, the fee for a vanity plate can vary widely. It ranges from $30 to $795, depending on what style you choose. This cost is in addition to the vehicle’s registration fee, and any other fees that are applicable. The fees for military plates will also vary by plate type.
Potential Risks Involved
Despite being a handy way to showcase your personality, vanity plates could end up being more trouble than they are worth. If they are too revealing (“CA$HMNY”/”Cash Money”) or gender-specific (“IMALADY”/”I’m a lady”) you could unwittingly paint yourself as a potential victim for crime.
Also, law enforcement officers are likely to pay more attention—and be less forgiving—if they see you speed by with a plate that reads: “L8RCOPS.” If you’re pulled over, a sarcastic message to the officer could mean the difference between a warning and enrolling in a Texas-approved online traffic school. That’s a steep price to pay for being clever!