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South Dakota residents stand out with vehicle vanity plates

March 3, 2018

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Since 1988, South Dakota drivers have taken nearly 50,000 opportunities to use the tiny space of real estate on the back of their vehicle to express something about themselves — in seven characters or less.

Some of these vanity license plates are funny. Some are political.

Others show allegiance to a sports team or alma mater, while some are obscure references difficult to interpret for inquiring minds.

Some personalized plates — 3,000, in fact — have been denied by state officials since 2008, often for carrying “connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

What they all have in common is that a South Dakotan had an idea that they thought was worth an extra $25 annual fee.

That’s pretty affordable compared to Maryland’s $50 annual fee, or the eye-popping $100 fee that Washington D.C. asks of aspiring vanity plate owners.

On the other hand, Virginia sets the bar even lower — you only have to put down an extra $10 a year.

Despite the low cost, a national study showed only 1.39 percent of registered motor vehicles in South Dakota had personalized plates — 44th in the country.

When Argus Leader Media filed a records request recently with the South Dakota Department of Revenue, we got them all. Even the rejected ones.

What can’t be on a license plate? There are no “vulgar words, terms or abbreviations” allowed, and the characters “cannot express represent or imply a profane, obscene or sexual meaning.”

You can’t be offensive or disrespectful of a race, religion, color, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, disability status or political affiliation.

You can’t support lawlessness, unlawful activities, or have anything related to illegal drugs or paraphernalia.

But other than that? Go wild.

Wade LaRoche, public affairs manager with the South Dakota Department of Revenue, said staff reviews the plate applications as they arrive — using Google and even Urban Dictionary to see if you’re trying to sneak something through.

That’s why you’ve got denied plates like 3SOME, AZZKIKR and the multiple people trying to trick the system with BADA55.

But for the people who aren’t trying to shock or surprise you as you drive down I-29, the reasons for getting vanity plates are often a lot more personal.

In our interviews with vanity plate owners, the inspirations ranged from college pride or self-promotion, or maybe just trying to make people laugh while they’re stuck in traffic, the Argus Leader reported .

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

Let’s be clear — we’re just talking license plates, but South Dakota State University clearly has the edge here over the University of South Dakota. Plates containing SDSU or JACKS outnumber those with USD or YOTES considerably.

Two drivers in the state refuse to take a side, as shown by the plates SDSUUSD and USDSDSU.

Black Hills State University shows up as BLKHILS, BLKHILZ, BLKHLLS, BLKHLS, and BLKHLZ.

As the schools get smaller, so do the chances that they make plate appearances — but Augustana University has still had six “AUGIE” plates, and at least one devoted fan of Mitchell’s Dakota Wesleyan University had DWUTGRS for a time.

It should be no surprise that the Minnesota Vikings dominate this category. From SKOLMOM to DAVIKES, VIKEFAN to VIKEGAL, MNVIKES to GOVIKES, South Dakota’s primary football fandom is evident.

GBPACK, PACKRMN and 4PACKRS are just a few of the plates from the state’s Green Bay Packers fans, although “PACK” also shows up in less-clear situations. (Is 12PACK a reference to Aaron Rodgers or beer? These are the mysteries that vanity plates bring us).

In fact, every NFL team from the Chicago Bears to the Jacksonville Jaguars appears to be represented on a South Dakota plate, save for the Carolina Panthers. The plate PANTHER is in use, but none of the PANTHRS or PNTHERS plates you might expect.

What gives, South Dakota? Cam Newton isn’t good enough for you?

The state has less interest in plates showing off non-Minnesota teams in the other three major professional sports leagues, although some are oddly popular.

At least 18 people have used their plate to cheer on the Boston Red Sox, while only two went for the Chicago White Sox. (One person, on the other hand, just wants to inform you that IKNTSOX).

The plate records obtained by the Argus Leader were pulled in December, before the Vikings pulled off a last-second win over the New Orleans Saints — but a quick check with the Department of Revenue shows that you should still be clear to go apply for MNMIRCL.

Fingers crossed you don’t run into the car sporting EAGLES, though.

Now we run into what is perhaps the subtlest category of vanity plates. Sure, if you’re parked behind ECTO1, you can guess it’s being driven by a Ghostbusters fan. Here are a few more that would likely pass you by, but have all adorned a South Dakota vehicle.

CQB241 seems pretty unassuming — except that it’s the license plate of Christine, an evil car that kills people in John Carpenter’s 1983 film “Christine,” based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. If you notice this plate on a 1958 Ford Plymouth, make a U-turn.

In the same vein, someone in South Dakota is driving around with the plate BEATNGU. You may remember this from “Jeepers Creepers,” a movie in which an ancient, winged demon drives around in a rusty old truck, killing and eating people.

So, you know, if that’s the vibe you’re going for ... good for you.

With no list of cars supplied by the Department of Revenue, it’s impossible to tell whether OUTATME is on a DeLorean DMC-12, or if EAGLE5 is on a Winnebago-turned-spaceship, or if NRVOUS is on a Ferrari 250 GT Spyder.

It’s possible, sure ... but it’s also possible some South Dakotans are just fans of “Back to the Future,” ″Spaceballs” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Not all inspiration comes from license plates, either — OHIMARK is a clear reference to one of the most famous lines from “The Room,” the 2003 movie so bad it became a cult classic.

They tell you never to discuss politics or religion in polite company. But we all know the roads aren’t polite.

OBAMA, 4OBAMA and NOBAMA once adorned cars in the state, although they appear to have fallen out of use.

In their place the state now has TRUMP, TRUMP45 and MAGA.

In the way of even higher powers, we’ve got GOD, SHIVA, GANESHA, JESUS, ZEUS, YAHWEH, ATHENA and YAALLAH.

Ancient Egyptian goddess ISIS also made an appearance on a plate at one point. That plate is now, understandably, not in use.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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