'NOT SEE' License Plate Revoked; Bus Driver Suspended

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on November 20, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A vanity "NOT SEE" license plate -- with the separate image of a swastika above it -- caused a San Diego Unified School District bus driver to be suspended and the license plates to be yanked by the DMV.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles canceled the "NOT SEE" license plates -- which, when pronounced, sounds like the word "Nazi" -- and asked the owner, Shawn Calpito, to return them.

But who gets to decide when vanity plates are too offensive?

California's Vanity Plate Rules: WWTGD?

As if channeling Tim Gunn, the California Department of Motor Vehicles makes its rule on vanity plates clear: It all comes down to common sense and good taste.

According to the California Vehicle Code, the department has the right to refuse any combination of letters and/or numbers that "may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency, or which may be misleading or in conflict with any license plate series now issued."

According to Los Angeles' KNBC-TV, the DMV has even released a list of 100 banned license plates, which include letter/character combinations such as:

  • SXSXSX*/

Courts in other states have reasoned that subjective rules that rely on "good taste" may be unconstitutionally vague or constitute illegal viewpoint discrimination. But California actually relies on panels of diverse citizens to make the call.

California DMV's 'Offensive Plate' Panel

To know where your taste lies, you could opine "What Would Tim Gunn Do?" and conjure his refined palate.

But the California DMV actually uses a six-member panel with a "wide spectrum of ages and backgrounds and ethnicities" to determine whether a vanity license plate is offensive, according to KNBC.

Drivers whose license applications get the boot can appeal the decision -- no, not to the Fashion Police. The application is sent back to another committee with between seven and 10 people on it.

How much do you want to bet that Calpito is keeping his fingers crossed (in the shape of a swastika) for panel folks akin to members of the Westboro Baptist Church or the infamous "Nazi dad"?

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