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Let your license plate do the talking for you. Buzz60's Sean Dowling has more. Buzz60

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It doesn't take much driving around Iowa to realize that Hawkeyes and Cyclones fans love their personalized license plates.

Each year, the Iowa Department of Transportation approves or renews tens of thousands of personalized plates, including some that — believe it or not — aren't a variation on "GOHWKS" or "LOVECY."

Personalized plate requests spanning from "A111N" to "ZZHOP" number two or three hundred per week for the Iowa DOT, said Daniel Yeh, a vehicle services manager for the department. That number goes up around the holidays or when a new specialty plate is released, such as the upcoming blackout plate which has a black background with white letters and numbers. 

While Yeh said the department approves the vast majority of plate requests that come across their desks, a handful are rejected because they don't meet state regulations. Since the start of 2018, for example, a little more than 300 plate combinations have been added to the department's restricted list either proactively or in response to a plate request, while nearly 25,000 were approved or renewed.

DATABASE:  You can see a complete list of approved and denied plate requests here.

"We want to support people's desire to have a little bit of whimsy on their vehicle," Yeh said. "Ultimately, you have to remember it's there for the purpose of identifying a vehicle."

To determine whether a plate can be issued, the DOT checks a few criteria:

  • It must not already be issued to another driver.
  • All characters in the request must be allowed ("Zero is not allowed, mostly to distinguish from the letter O," Yeh said.)
  • The message itself conforms to regulations and statutes. The list of regulations can be found here; it primarily restricts phrases that would be sexual, vulgar or insulting, or references to criminal acts.

That includes plates like "H8 ISU" or "HWKH8RS," both added to the rejection list in 2018, as the DOT interprets "H8" and similar sentiments as terms of contempt or hostility.

The DOT keeps a list of restricted plates and character combinations, and sometimes adds to it before a plate has even been requested.

"We attempt to (be proactive)," Yeh said. "There may be certain combinations we want to watch out for. The list of refusals is based on the entire message, but there are certain combinations we watch for that people may put in front of or after other words."

If a plate obviously fails to meet state regulations, Yeh said the department simply issues the rejection. But if a phrase comes up they're not sure about, employees consult with each other and online resources such as the Urban Dictionary to make sure nothing vulgar slips past.

Even if it does, the DOT will listen to public complaints. "If we recognize a plate no longer conforms to the statutes, we reserve the right to revoke that," Yeh said.

Iowans interested in purchasing a personalized plate can do so on the Iowa DOT website.

If you'd prefer to see what it's like from the other side of the application process, take our short quiz of ten plates that were requested in 2018 and see how many you'd approve. 

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Read or Share this story: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2019/06/17/how-iowa-dot-rules-personalized-vanity-license-plates-custom-plate-approved-rejected-combinations/1442846001/