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Michiganders Get Creative — And Tricky — With Vanity License Plates

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By Christy Strawser
CBS Detroit Managing Editor
There may be only seven dirty words you can’t say on television, but there are thousands of words you can’t emblazon on your license plate.

Tooling around downtown Romeo, WWJ’s Roberta Jasina spotted a license plate that says “B Yatch” (pronounce it for full impact) and it had us wondering about the other license plates people are getting away with in Michigan.

What exactly are the rules of vanity plates? It’s in the eye of the beholder.

The state has a handful of people responsible for manually checking vanity license plate requests after they’ve been vetted by a computer program that rejects combinations already deemed offensive.

“There are some oldies but goodies that we are aware of, so we have a list. The computer will automatically reject any that have been attempted and rejected before,” said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan Department of State.

How many plates are on the list of rejects?

“It’s thousands of words long,” Woodhams said.

These state employees stay on top of tricksters and the ever-evolving use of slang the easy way.

“If there’s doubt, they’ll check it on the Internet, look it up with urban dictionary to see if it’s a new phrase,” Woodhams said.

That doesn’t mean people still aren’t tricky.

There are combinations, for instance that appear to be innocent at first glance, then reveal their offense later. News website Crosscut.com highlighted a doozy from the annals of license plate history in Seattle, Wash.: 3M3TIB.

From the front, it’s meaningless. Seen through a rearview mirror, it says “BITEME.”

It’s in Michigan’s rejected file, so don’t try it. But if you manage to sneak in a license plate that someone else could find offensive, you’re never really off the hook.

The state owns your license plate and can revoke it any time.

“If someone files a complaint with us and says they find your plate offensive, it could be revoked,” Woodhams said.

Michigan doesn’t make public its list of banned letter and number combinations. The Secretary of State website lets you input whatever information you want to see on your plate, so basically you have to try it and see.

A few tries with various combinations of “atch” brought back only one response: Rejected. The same results came in for virtually any combination starting with the letter “f” or the word “eat.”

Click here to see if the Michigan Secretary of State will allow the license plate of your dreams.

Beware: “Selections cannot be offensive to good taste or decency as judged by the Department of State,” per the Secretary of State website.

So, what’s the most memorable license plate you’ve ever seen?

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