Indiana Stops (o)Inking Vanity Plates

It’s a pig of a problem.

But it’s one with which so many imaginative drivers in Indiana will have to cope.

For they will not be able to adorn their new Teslas with “ILUVTESS,” or some other fine bon mot.

It all started, as problems sometimes do, with a humorous policeman. As the Indianapolis Star reports, Rodney Vawter is a policeman who, for three years, enjoyed the license plate “0INK” on his personal car.

He tried to renew it in March and, in a fit of odd gravity, the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles said no.

Vawter’s lawsuit, his tongue stiffly removed from his cheek, explains that the license plate is “an ironic statement of pride in his profession.”

You’ll notice that I mentioned the word “lawsuit” because Vawter has got together with the American Civil Liberties Union and taken on the humorless apparatchiks.

The lawsuit  offers a quite beautiful language to explain, well, humor: “Corporal Vawter selected the phrase ‘oink’ for his license plate because, as a police officer who has been called ‘pig’ by arrestees, he thought it was both humorous and also a label that he wears with some degree of pride.”

This is a real license plate in California. (No, it isn't mine.)

This is a real license plate in California. (No, it isn’t mine.)

The BMV bacons to differ. They insist that this is offensive and misleading (yes, people might think Vawter is a pig farmer). In quite a strange reaction, they have suspended the issue of all vanity plates in the state.

One wonders why the piggy plate wasn’t deemed offensive for the previous three years. But the BMV’s Commissioner Scott Waddell seems to have overreacted to the lawsuit because he’s afraid he might lose. Money, that is.

In a statement, he explained he’d suspended the vanity plate issue “in order to protect Hoosier taxpayers from the considerable expense that these types of lawsuits bring.”

Some might see an extraordinary sense of responsibility in this idea. Others might see absolutely no connection between the lawsuit and the suspension of plates.

One imagines that Indiana must make a little money from people’s need to have their egos on full display on their cars.

Why shut off a revenue stream when it must be flowing quite nicely? In Indiana, a personalized plate costs $30 and there’s an annual fee of another $48.

Can the BMV really be afraid that it will reject other vanity requests and get sued all over again?

Even more perplexing is the notion that “0INK” was perfectly acceptable for three years and doesn’t seem to have attracted any complaints or confusion. What strange twist of the mind suddenly made it unacceptable?

Has the sense of public taste in Indiana lurched toward the conservative end of the spectrum? Has a local official recently had an unfortunate experience with a pork loin?<

Sometimes, officials tend so far toward the officious that they seem awfully draconian.

Trotterskyite, even.


Image: Chris Matyszczyk