Do Custom License Plates Attract Police?

“What custom license plates do you want on the new Jeep?” My wife yelled up the stairs. I yelled back down, “You don’t want vanity plates; they attract the police!” She asked, “How do you know?” I thought, Oh great; now I have to Google it. What I found was surprising: Some police officers hone in on custom tags while enforcing car safety. But others avoid personalized license plates.

Do vanity plates attract police?

As far as I know, no one has completed a balanced study of traffic stop rates comparing custom/vanity plates and regular license plates. Therefore, we have to rely on what individual police officers say.

I quickly found discussions about whether custom license plates attract unwanted police attention on both Quora and Reddit. Then, I sifted through the responses for police officers, so you don’t have to. Their answers certainly vary.

Some police officers claim personalized license plates don’t affect decisions

An I heart NASCAR customized license plate from the state of North Caroline.
Vanity license plate | Darell Ingham via Getty Images

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Blake Walkup was the Chief of Police in Glen Lyn, Virginia, from 1990 to 2000. He hopped on Quora to answer, “Do police pullover (sic) cars with personalized license plates more often?” with a resounding “No.”

Virginia only requires vehicles a rear “tag” or license plate. That said, Glen Lynn is on the border with West Virginia: Chief Walkup saw many motorists with both front and rear license plates. Even so, Walkup claimed, “The majority of time I never seen a tag until the passed me (sic).”

Walkup insisted that when he did notice license plates, custom plates never made a difference in who he pulled over. Noting license plates helped him catch repeat offenders, but he could remember non-personalized plates alright.

“The majority of time I never seen a tag until the passed me. So to say a personalized tag created more tickets that (sic) regular tags, isn’t true….I can say personalized tags help point put a lot of repeat offenders. But so did regular tags for that matter.”

Blake Walkup, retired Chief of Police of Glen Lyn, VA via Quora

Some police officers focus on vanity plates

A blue on white vanity Tennessee license plate that reads "ITL Go."
Vanity license plate | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

I believed Walkup. But I also assumed some police officers focus on whatever vehicles stand out, especially in more heavily populated areas. Therefore, I kept digging.

Reddit user /u/Officer_Copper is a police officer located in Ottawa. They often chime into discussions on policing with helpful information.

When someone asked the platform, “Law enforcement officials: Do vanity license plate affect your actions? (sic)” Officer_Copper had an answer ready.

Officer_Copper did not admit to pulling motorists with customized license plates over more often. That said, they admitted to “running” these plates through the system more than standard plates. Why? Because they stand out.

Maybe certain vanity plates amuse police officers so much that they want to know more of the story.

“I tend to run them more just because they stand out in a sea of cars.”

Reddit.com/u/Officer_Copper

Other officers avoid customized license plates

Alaskan vanity license plate on a blue car reads "WUUHUU"
Vanity license plate | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

But imagine my surprise when I found out some police officers avoid pulling over cars with vanity plates. Reddit user /u/Azrael5298 claims to be a police officer and appears to be based out of New Jersey. When Redditors asked about custom license plates, they got an unexpected answer.

Like many police officers, /u/Azrael5298 has a split second to figure out as much about each motorist as possible. They claimed they pay attention to “little things” about your car to find out whether you “give a damn or not.” Because they are looking for repeat offenders, they assume a well cared for car means “that person’s license is probably on the up and up.”

Police officers also prefer to pull over speeders who will not fight to contest the ticket. /u/Azrael5298 pointed out that “Vanity plates cost extra, so my thought is that if you pay extra for that, you probably take care of summonses and whatnot.”

“Little things on cars show me if you give a damn or not. Lights out, are an easy thing to pull over. If I see a vanity plate though, it shows me that the person generally cares a little bit more about their car and therefore that person’s license is probably on the up and up. Vanity plates cost extra, so my thought is that if you pay extra for that, you probably take care of summonses and whatnot.”

Reddit.com/u/Azrael5298

Because my research was inconclusive, my wife won out, and we put custom license plates on our Jeep. It looks like I will be performing my own independent research. I’ll undoubtedly write up what I learn.

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