Note: This story contains language that may be offensive to some readers.
When Adam Peterson’s white 1976 Toyota Supra was getting repainted, someone stole his personalized license plate. So he went to a branch of the Pasco Tax Collector to request another one.
Weeks later, the 38-year-old Tampa man got a letter from the state. Even though he’d driven around with a plate that said “SNGLE AF” for years, his request to replace it with the same message had been rejected.
Peterson swears that the meaning isn’t what people probably think — he has a girlfriend. The plate was actually referring to his customized car.
“It’s a rare Supra with a bunch of rare stuff on it," he said. "It’s the only one of its kind, but it has that double meaning.”
Peterson is one of nearly 400 Floridians who have had a personalized license plate application reviewed by Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles since January 2018. According to public records, his plate is among rejects such as “LEFTNUT”, “0H CHIT” and “WTF G2G.”
Whose job is it to say whether it’s okay for Floridians to drive around with “EFFED UP” or “0H YASSS” on their license plates? And what does that process even look like?
First, applicants must go to their local tax collector’s office and fill out the application form HSMV 83043. A clerk runs the proposed plate characters through an online database to make sure it hasn’t already been claimed (try it out for yourself here).
“If something is truly obscene, we don’t even put it in the system," said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano. "We just tell them no.”
“If they’re blatant, like if they use the F-word, we’re going to tell them, ‘No that’s not acceptable,’ and then they’ll laugh and say ‘okay,’” said Dale Hoffman, director of branch operations for the Hillsborough County Tax Collector.
Sometimes applicants still want to see if they’ll be able to get it passed anyway. Other times, offensive messages slip through the county level undetected.
That’s where Florida’s Personalized License Plate Review Committee comes in. Based in Tallahassee, the 10-person team consists of Florida DHSMV employees and one person from the general public. The group votes on new plate applications and reviews existing plates that have been flagged for review.
Vulgar language, racial slurs, threats of violence and sexual terms are not allowed. Neither are acronyms that allude to those kinds of words. And submitting something naughty in another language won’t save you — committee members consult online foreign language dictionaries. They also have an unabridged dictionary, a slang dictionary and a medical dictionary on hand.
“If a license plate is identified as one that could be obscene or objectionable, the license plate order will be cancelled,” says the committee’s official procedure document. Rejected plates are added to a database to keep the plate from ever being made, and the applicant gets mailed a rejection letter and a temporary plate.
In 2018, Pinellas County had only two instances of a plate being made and then rejected once it was delivered to the tax collector. Hernando and Hillsborough could not quantify how many plates had been rejected after going through the appeal process.
In the past year, the Pasco County Tax Collector’s office has only had two applications rejected by the state. One was SNGLE AF. The other was a plate that said “VJJJJ.” According to Fasano, the V stood for the applicant’s wife’s name, and the Js were the first initials of each of his children. They couldn’t figure out why it had been rejected.
Curious about the other plates? The following photo illustrations were made using actual messages requested by Florida residents.
Clarification: Some of the plates were messages that were initially rejected, then later overturned. Others were approved, then later rejected after a review prompted by a complaint. You can see the records sent by the DMV embedded at the bottom of the page.
Here is the full PDF from the Florida DMV with all of the rejected requests from April 2019 back to January 2018.
Seen any weird personalized license plates around Florida? Tell us about them in the comments.