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Opinion: should some personalised numberplates be banned?

Some cryptic personal plates are a public service. It would be a shame to prohibit the ones we might all enjoy

Published: 13 May 2024

The DVLA was recently hit with a Freedom of Information request ordering it to publish a full list of banned numberplates for the March ‘24’ cycle: all plates deemed at risk of offending right-minded citizens. The investigative journalists behind this request? Plates4Less, a website selling personalised numberplates.

Now, personally I’d rather pop my most delicate extremities in an air fryer than drive a car with a personalised plate. But hey, it’s a free country, and if you’re the sort of person fine with blowing a month’s salary on a combination of letters and numbers that vaguely resemble your name provided you a) squint heavily and b) cannot spell, then knock yourself out.

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Unless, that is, your name happens to vaguely resemble one of the 330 or so recently prohibited combos. Because the DVLA did indeed publish its banned list in full (thus rather undermining the ‘not causing offence’ principle), and it is indeed... nowhere near as offensive as you’d hope, sorry.

Sure, some of the list could be construed as at least mildly rude: GO24 HEL, SH24 GGD, BO24 LOC, etc. But plenty of the ‘offensive’ plates are, to put it mildly, a stretch. For example: GB24 DWN. I’ve spent plenty of time looking at that one, and unless a ‘bzadwn’ is some new slang for a proper wrong ’un, I believe we’re meant to decode it as ‘Great Britain, 2024, down’.

Squinting my way through the list, I felt intensely sorry for the poor DVLA lackey responsible for studying every alphanumeric combo for potential offence. “But hang on. If the car lands upside down in a ditch, and every other character on its numberplate happens to spontaneously combust, an innocent passerby might misread it as ‘bum’...”

Here’s the banned plate that really got me: AF24 ART. Yes, we all know what it (nearly) says. But why ban it? Would anyone’s day truly be made worse by catching sight of a combination of letters and numbers loosely nodding to a natural bodily function? “Margaret, how frightful! I’d entirely forgotten the human tendency to emit intestinal gas until I spotted that plate. This is even worse than that time we spotted a sign to a public toilet...”

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This nation doesn’t agree on much. But we are united in this universal truth: reverse burps are funny, so long as you don’t have the misfortune to be trapped in an elevator with a particularly vicious example. If a few delicate souls out there might be lightly offended by spotting AF24 ART (or UF24 ART, or FF24 ART, or any of the other flatus-related plates on the banned list), surely their pain would be hugely outweighed by the joy experienced by our nation’s puerile children, and puerile-children-at-heart?

Come on, the DVLA. Regular personalised numberplates are bad enough. Don’t make it worse by banning the ones we might actually enjoy.

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