Personalized or Vanity License Plates have gained in popularity both in the United States and Canada as automobile owners seek a forum for personal expression. What better way then to display a message or voice an opinion then on the front and back of ones own bumper!

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A Closer Look at the History and Psychology of Personalized or Vanity license plates.

Maybe it’s the need to let everyone know you are not just another driver stuck in the morning rush-hour traffic. You are special and it says so right on your license plate! The popularity of the vanity license plate suggests that this highly personalized luxury offers more to the owner than at first meets the eye. Vanity license plates are a phenomenon exhibited by men and women, old and young, and from all walks of life. Vanity or personalized license plates invariably make a personal statement about the owner of a particular vehicle and some view these more as a placard of personal identity.

In our status-oriented society, much value is placed on mobility, and the automobile has proven to be the ultimate symbol of social standing, achievement, personal taste, as well as social mobility. What better way to put the finishing touches on a long sought after vehicle than to put a specially designed personalized license plate on it? Such a license plate will attract additional attention to the car and ultimately to the driver. Some vanity license plates remain difficult to discern and are unique means of self-expression where the true meaning is only known to the owner. People have been known to display license plates with nicknames, dates of birth, personal sayings, and even their I.Q.

Nowadays, every state in the United States along with the District of Columbia offers personalized plates for an additional fee. The sales of these plates continue to generate millions of dollars in revenue. Some states refer to personalized or vanity license plates as “courtesy”, “custom” or “prestige” license plates. The vanity license plate craze dates back to 1937 when the state of Connecticut offered motorists with a clean driving record for at least five years the option of displaying his or her name, nickname, or initials on the registration plate. Such restrictions for the sale of personalized license plates are now a thing of the past. Motorists in many states now even have the choice of personalizing or customizing the hundreds of specialty or environmental license plates therefore creating many different categories and themes of vanity plates. For example, the state of Florida offers personalized plates in each category of its over 100 specialty plates so an individual who wants a personalized plate “I-TEACH” may opt to get this message on a “Support Education” license plate therefore truly customizing the plate and taking it to another level!

One of the most interesting and controversial aspects of personalized license plates is the actual screening process that the various motor vehicles bureaus go through. In most cases each license plate number must be checked to see if it contains any objectionable or offensive connotations. Furthermore, computers must screen for words in foreign languages which may not be allowed on a license plate. The state of Florida has a statute that states that the DMV has the right to “recall during a registration year, any issued personalized license plate containing letters, numbers, or combinations thereof, discovered after issuance to an applicant, to be obscene or otherwise objectionable.

In today’s impersonal, and standardized world where we all are assigned numbers for our cell phones, home phones, bank accounts, and credit cards, the personalized, vanity, customized license plate provides an excellent means for establishing and expressing one’s individuality.

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