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Funny Vanity Plates Can Backfire on You

Getting a vanity license plate for your car is an opportunity to bring smiles to the drivers around you. Thousands of people have used the system to make jokes and puns. But there are some words that have unintended consequences when they are attached to your car.

In 1979 a Los Angeles man named Robert Barbour found this out the hard way when he sent an application to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requesting personalized license plates for his car. The DMV form asked applicants to list three choices in case one or two of their desired selections had already been assigned. Barbour, a sailing enthusiast, wrote down "SAILING" and "BOATING" as his first two choices; when he couldn't think of a third option, he wrote "NO PLATE," meaning that if neither of his two choices was available, he did not want personalized plates. Plates reading "BOATING" and "SAILING" had indeed already been assigned, so the DMV, following Barbour's instructions literally, sent him license plates reading "NO PLATE." Barbour was not thrilled that the DMV had misunderstood his intent, but he opted to keep the plates because of their uniqueness.

Four weeks later he received his first notice for an overdue parking fine, from faraway San Francisco, and within days he began receiving dozens of overdue notices from all over the state on a daily basis. Why? Because when law enforcement officers ticketed illegally parked cars that bore no license plates, they had been writing "NO PLATE" in the license plate field. Now that Barbour had plates bearing that phrase, the DMV computers were matching every unpaid citation issued to a car with missing plates to him.

Barbour received thousands of such notices over the next few months, and it was years before anyone did anything about it. He was far from the only one. Read about other people with different vanity plates that got them into trouble through bureaucratic means at Snopes.  -via reddit

(Image credit: Randall Munroe/xkcd)


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I heard another story of someone purposely getting a "NO PLATE" tag to avoid parking tickets- IIRC it was in NYC. An officer would write NO PLATE on the ticket, so (at the time- 1970s) there was no way to track down the owner. Anyone else hear this story?
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It probably varies from state to state, but places I've lived before don't distinguish between similar characters. So if someone replaces an I with a 1, that is treated as the same plate in the system. O and 0 (and maybe Q) would be the same too. So the trick doesn't work that well, although it might still confuse people trying to count the Qs and Os and forget the total number which is all that would really be needed.
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Back in the '80s, in the parking lot of the Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey, I saw a car with the NY plate: "QQOQQOQO" which I assume was someone's attempt at what the xkcd strip above was depicting. I wonder how it worked for him?
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