License Plate Possibilities

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License Plate Possibilities

Post by rogerwimmer » Mon Aug 23, 2010 7:40 am

Doc: The main vehicle license plates in our state have a pattern of three letters followed by four numbers. How many license plates can be made with those letters and numbers? - Anonymous

Anon: As most people know, vehicle license plates (called tags in some states) can use a variety of number and letter combinations. With your state's main license plate pattern, there are 26 letter possibilities in each of the first three positions, followed by 10 number possibilities in each of the last four positions. This means that your state could produce 175,750,000 license plates with the 3-letter/4-number pattern (26*26*26*10*10*10*10).

However, not all of these letter & number combinations are used because many letter combinations are deleted because the words or combinations are interpreted as profane, obscene, politically incorrect, "patently offensive," or objectionable for one reason or another. Many states refer to the list of unacceptable words or letter combinations as the "Blue List." For example, most people would probably not want "PIG" or "ASS" on their license plate. In your state's case, deleting a 3-letter word or 3-letter combination deletes 10,000 possible license plates (10*10*10*10) from the maximum total of license plates.

Because each state individually determines which words or letter combinations are not allowed, there is no way to determine how many words/combinations exist. I thought about this for a few minutes and developed 20 3-letter words and letter combinations that would not be allowed. I'm sure there are hundreds. Think about it for a while. How many words/combinations can you come up with? A list of 100 disallowed words/letter combinations in your state's license plate format deletes 1,000,000 license plates from the maximum.

What complicates the matter even more are vanity plates and other special license plates that many states offer to vehicle owners. Many states allow up to eight number/letter combinations for vanity plates. That's a maximum of 2,176,782,336 possible plates. Think of the thousands of possibilities that would not be allowed. Mind-boggling.

For more information, click here for a list of each state's basic requirements for license plates.

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Roger Wimmer is owner of Wimmer Research and senior author of Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 10th Edition.

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