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Specialized license plates raise revenue, smiles

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ There's a place in Oklahoma where people who call themselves ``OUTKAST'' and ``HELRAZR'' rub elbows with the likes of ``JUNEBUG,'' ``BIGHIPS'' AND ``HUSSY.''

That place is on Oklahoma's highways, where thousands of motorists advertise their nicknames, occupations and attitudes on personalized license plates issued by the state.

Oklahoma motorists might encounter ``SHORTIE,'' ``PRETTY'' AND ``FAT RAT'' as they maneuver through traffic. They're just as likely to pass by ``DA BOSS,'' ``BIG MAMA'' or ``NOBODY.''

Drivers share Oklahoma's highways with people who have ``PLMCRZY,'' ``LEGZ,'' ''2BWILD'' and ``ZAPPED'' printed on their license tags. Lucky drivers might get close to ``LOVABLE'' during their travels, and avoid an encounter with ``THE PUNK.''

More than 51,000 Oklahomans drove cars and trucks bearing personalized license tags last year. They were by far the largest group of the more than 85,000 people who ordered so-called specialty license plates from the state in 2001.

The Legislature has authorized more than 70 different kinds of specialized plates to recognize a variety of groups and organizations.

The plates are issued by the state Tax Commission, which administers Oklahoma's vehicle licensing program and collects revenue for the tags.

Legislation is pending in the House and Senate this year to create two or three more specialty plates, including one that would authorize a ``Choose Life'' tag that would take the debate over abortion on the road.

``Every group wants to be recognized in some form or fashion,'' said Sen. Dave Herbert, D-Midwest City.

``When a group of folks comes to a legislator in an election year and says we'd like to have one, are you going to say no?'' Herbert said.

Herbert is the author of a bill that would authorize license tags to recognize the Boy Scouts and the Humane Society. He said he was asked to carry the legislation.

``I'd be un-American not to do that,'' he said.

Specialty tags account for a small portion of the 3.8 million license tags that the state has issued for cars, trailers and other vehicles. But they still raise a considerable amount of revenue.

More than $1 million dollars was raised in 2001 in fees for specialized tags, which range from $5 to $25 a year. The fees are paid in addition to normal car tag fees, which range from $85 down to $15 a year, depending upon the age of the vehicle.

Special license tags can reveal a lot about a person's background, interests and lifestyle to other motorists who they may never meet.

Special plates are authorized for members of the U.S. armed forces as well as the National Guard and Air National Guard.

Disabled veterans, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and survivors of wars and battles, including Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm, all have their own specialized license plates.

Oklahoma City bombing victims and survivors have a specialized license plate. There is also a special Heart of the Heartland license tag, which is issued to anyone who wants to recognize those killed or injured in the bombing.

Some specialized license plates focus attention on social issues, such as the Crime Victims Awareness and Oklahoma Safe Kids Association license plates.

Others are more lighthearted and recognize hobbies or interests, such as the Balloonists and Ducks Unlimited tags.

But it is the personalized plates _ those that carry messages composed of a combination of numerals and letters that can be both amusing and confusing _ that attract the most attention on the highway.

``They're called vanity tags. That speaks for itself,'' said Herbert, whose own personalized license tag spells out ``WINNING.''

``I've had it for years. During the oil boom the oilers wanted to buy it from me,'' he said.

Requests for personalized plates are carefully screened by Tax Commission workers who cull out tags that are vulgar, racial or in some way offensive, said commission spokeswoman Paula Ross.

``We talk about it all the time,'' Ross said. Tax Commission workers rely on a dictionary of slang terms and common sense when deciding which personalized tags to reject.

``We really haven't had a lot of trouble with them,'' she said.

Many requests for personalized tags carry sports themes, and many involve the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University. They include ``YEAHOSU'' and ``IM4OURU.''

Some attempt to identify the profession of the motorist, like ``DVCATTY,'' ''2THFXR,'' ''2THDR,'' ``NOSEDOC'' and ``EDUKTER.''

Other tags reflect how successful the driver may be: ``IAMRICH,'' ``ERNEDIT'' and ``A4CHIN.''

Some motorists drive cars with tags that reflect a high opinion of themselves, tags like ``IM-A-10,'' ``TOO HIP,'' ''2CUTE4U'' and ''2MUCH4U.''

Others could reflect personal dilemmas: ``HATEMYX,'' ``IM MAD,'' ``NO WIFE'' and ``IPASGAS.''

Some Oklahomans use personalized tags to reflect leisure time activities, license plates like ``I FISH,'' ``SNOWSKI'' and ``GOLFER1.''

Some license plates carry religious themes, like ``GRACE2U'' and ``H8NS8N.''

Then there are tags for which there are no apparent explanations: ``LQQK,'' ``OMIGOSH,'' MY-TURN,'' ``I-MLOST,'' ``BOPPIN,'' ``ICU2'' and ``NOT4U2C.''

But the most popular of the personalized tags seem to be expressions of love and caring, license plates that read ``U-AND-I,'' ``I CARE,'' ''4UIWILL, ``IMNLUV'' and ``ILUVU2.''

As one Oklahoma driver put it, personalized license tags are ``GRRRRR8.''
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