Licence plate lottery

·4 min read

P.E.I.'s registrar of motor vehicles works hard to keep all the plates spinning as he juggles applications for personalized licence plates.

Also called vanity plates, the personalized tags can be funny, cheeky or meaningful, but they can’t be discriminatory, religious or political, according to P.E.I. regulations.

Decisions on which to approve are made by a committee of managers at the Department of Motor Vehicles, said registrar Doug MacEwen.

“Usually, I find we get better decisions if there’s more than one person involved,” he said.

With around 4,300 personalized plates on Island roadways, approving those plates is a “bit of a complicated process”, he said.

“It’s a real challenge as we become more of a multicultural society. Something that may be fine and acceptable in English may be highly disrespectful in the Hindu language or Arabic or something,” said MacEwen. “Our society is changing at a great pace.”

Keeping the plate respectful is just a part of it. MacEwen also evaluates how clear the combination of letters and numbers are together.

“The reason for the licence plate is so that folks can identify the vehicle,” he said.

“You wouldn’t put a couple of Bs together with a couple of 8s because it becomes really hard to discern – for enforcement or for someone, if someone backed into you in a parking lot and left the area. We try to be as clear as possible, so that may be another reason for denying a plate.”

MacEwen has a few people on his staff he can ask for advice on other languages.

For other questionable words, MacEwen said his team consults the Urban Dictionary online.

“It maintains fairly up-todate slang words in numerous languages,” he said.

The Guardian recently received a list of the 87 plates that didn’t make the cut between September 2018 and 2020.

One of the rejected plates was RANESH.

A Google search indicates Ranesh is a boy’s first name.

But MacEwen consulted Urban Dictionary and came up with a different answer.

“The name RANESH, I can remember running it and there is a slang statement associated with that spelling,” said MacEwen.

Some requests, however, are an immediate “no”, said MacEwen.

MANOFGOD and JOHN3 16 are clearly religious messaging, which is not allowed, while PHAT A55 is a combination of profanity with sexual connotation.

However, NEED4SPD seems harmless enough.

Maybe it goes against the rule about “disturbing the public peace or the maintenance of law and order.”

MacEwen said he also takes tips from the public.

From time to time someone sees a plate they find offensive and reports it to the department.

“Once in a while there’s something we’d have to pull back,” he said.

He remembers one instance, many years ago, of a dog breeder innocently using the breed name on her licence plate.

However, the breed was named after a derogatory term for an Indigenous group.

“We took that one off the road,” he said.

Following are P.E.I.’s rules for personalized plate numbers or slogans:

• Each number/slogan may contain only letters or numerals or a combination of both.

• Minimum of one character from digits 0 to 9 or letters A to Z

• Maximum eight characters including spaces for passenger plates, six for motorcycles

• Not all number/slogans will be approved, such as words or symbols socially unacceptable, dots, dashes, other symbols, i.e. $ -./>

• The number/slogan does not express, imply or appear to express or imply a message or meaning that is in any way related to: violence, discrimination or bias against any individual or class of individuals based on race, ancestry, place or origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability; any content that contravenes Canadian Advertising Standards; any activity that is prohibited by law; the use of alcohol or drugs; religious messaging; disturbing the public peace or the maintenance of law and order; abusive, derogatory, obscene or profane language; sexual connotation; political opinion; a government program, where the message or meaning is negative or derogatory with respect to the program or any messaging related to public or well-known figures, including members of the government and other dignitaries.

Alison Jenkins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Journal-Pioneer