Crack Down on Obnoxious License Plates May Mean Prison for Some

By Fred Furnace

Published July 26th, 2015

ALBANY – A new law banning “obnoxious or reprehensible" vanity plates from roads and highways goes into effect next month, making New York the first state in the nation to criminalize annoying personalized tags.

"While I’m pleased to sign this law, I am even more pleased that jerks in our state with annoying vanity plates will finally start getting the punishments they deserve,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Under the law, the most serious violations are reserved for drivers of hybrid or electric vehicles with vanity plates expressing an "earth friendly" or environmental message of a “boastful nature." The second-most serious violations will be for minivan drivers whose vanity plates reference their kids. 

Violators in either category will face up to 5 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

“All you hybrid drivers out there, consider yourselves warned,” Cuomo said. "If your license plate brags that your Prius is helping to save the environment, you will be going to prison. You will not pass ‘Go.’ You will not collect $200.

"These people are miscreants, plain and simple” the governor added. “Until now, we have been unable to punish them due to an overly lenient criminal code. Well, those days are now over.”

All other categories of vanity plates proscribed by the new law — including "inside jokes," “nicknames,” "sports fans," “politics,” "college alumni," "motor heads," “preachy,” and "general grumpiness and/or sarcastic" — will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the state’s new Commission on Obnoxious Plates, known also as COPs.

COPs also will have wide latitude to enforce the law and its rulings will be final.

The ACLU is considering a challenge to the law on First Amendment grounds, but the civil rights organization admits it is conflicted on this one.

“On the one hand, this law is patently unconstitutional,” said ACLU spokesperson Cassidy Partridge. “But, on the other hand, we acknowledge those plates can be really fucking annoying. So, we’re considering just sitting this one out.”


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