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Risqué and Banned Number Plates

To ban or not to ban, what is the motivation?

You are probably aware of the growing popularity in personalised number plates, many of which represent a whole multitude of names and words, from the rare to the popular. But were you aware that many of these private plates spell out, either distinctly or with the aid of some imagination, rude, naughty and offensive words or are associated with acronyms or words deemed otherwise inappropriate?

Maybe you were but less apparent is the inconsistency in the vetting process administered by the mandarins at the DVLA (Drivers Vehicle and Licence Agency) in Swansea. The DVLA release hundreds of thousands of registrations annually, many of which are reserved for sale as personalised plates, to raise millions of pounds for the Treasury. Prior to each release, officials draw up a black list of numbers that could be perceived to cause offence.

However, it seems that the sensitivity varies among the bureaucrats at the DLVA or the system has inherent imperfections. For example, marks such as BA57 ARD, AA55 HOL and BL08 JOB have been banned despite the previous release of classics such as PEN 15, ORG 45M and FU 2. Similarly, you’ll never see a car brandishing BU11 SHT as it clearly reads “bull shit” and neither will you see BO08 LES for fear of offending ladies with a modest cup. Yet R1 APE, 1 CUM and FAT 130Y (fat boy), first issued by the DVLA, are available from dealers.

In particular, homophobic plates have raised controversy. The DVLA were ordered to reverse their decision not to ban H8 GAY by Alastair Darling, the then Transport Secretary. This came about after members of the public and Labour MP Chris Bryant complained about it, citing that it could be read as “hate gay”. "If the DVLA sold H8 JEW or H8 WOG, there would rightly be a public outcry”, said Mr Bryant. The DVLA initially refused to revoke the number plate, claiming it was not offensive on the grounds of “political, racial or religious sensitivities". There is speculation that this was due to the fact that the registration number had already been sold by them in the first place. However, since the withdrawal, the DVLA have now stated that they will “withhold any plate that causes offence or embarrassment”.

The DVLA was also urged to withdraw the registrations F4 GOT and D1 KES from their auction at Broadway in Worcestershire after the gay rights charity Stonewall complained. The two registrations, due to go under the hammer bear an obvious resemblance to the derogatory terms “faggot” and “dykes”. The DVLA removed these marks on the grounds of “the clear potential offence”. Many other plates from this class have been removed from sale. RU08 ENT has been outlawed as it reads “are you bent?” as was WH08 GAY since it could be interpreted as “who’s gay?”

In view of these withdrawals, it seems strange then, that registration numbers such as F8 GOT and F14 GOT are still available for immediate transfer. Similarly for WHO2 GAY, which you could argue reads “who’s gay” just as well as WHO8 GAY. It's not just modern day plates that raise ambiguity over the selection process. Number plates like GAY 1 and GAY 50D are currently available from number plate dealers, which again were first issued by the DVLA.

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