How the DMV Keeps Smutty License Plates Off Our Roads

5/22/2017 - Associate Professor of Psychology Cynthia Pickett in the Sacramento Bee.

Some California Department of Motor Vehicles workers have to keep their minds in the gutter all day long.

Their job is to catch vanity license plate requests that don’t meet the state’s rules of decency. Sexual suggestions, hints of vulgarity or possible gang references earn a “no.” Only plates that are pure win a “yes” from the DMV reviewers – and they don’t take risks.

Cynthia Pickett, a psychology professor at UC Davis, said people’s desire for distinctiveness drives their urge to express themselves through custom plates, including with hostile or sexual messages.

“People feeling secure about themselves wouldn’t necessarily need to get personalized license plates. Humans want themselves verified and identified by others,” Pickett said. “While hostile signs can get you targeted, desire for distinctiveness can be so high that social impression doesn’t matter anymore.” 

Read the full story in the Sacramento Bee.