No, the license plate you see above isn’t fake. And yes, those are ampersands. That’s because Virginia is one of several U.S. states that allow you to put some punctuation marks on license plates.
Yes, it’s true: Some states let you put punctuation on license plates. I bring this up because every few months I get a text message from a friend of mine who’s just seen a punctuated license plate, and he or she is always simply stunned by this development, to the point where they treat it as almost incomprehensible. “A QUESTION MARK?! ON A LICENSE PLATE?!” these people say.
Yes, indeed, a question mark on a license plate. In fact, a few states allow punctuation on plates, though there are a few caveats. Number one is, not surprisingly, it’s not on regular-issue plates. You won’t walk into your local DMV tomorrow and get license plate number GGE3&?9. It doesn’t work like that.
Instead, punctuation on plates in these states is solely reserved for vanity plates. For instance, the plate above is a fairly clever way of spelling out “sea and sand,” presumably because the alternatives — “SEA AND SAND” or “SEA N SAND” — were too long. So they resorted to the ampersands, and I think it looks pretty cool.
The other caveat: No, the punctuation mark is not part of your license plate number. If SEE&S& got pulled over by the police, the cop wouldn’t call it in to the DMV as “SEE AMPERSAND S AMPERSAND.” Instead, this license plate appears in DMV computers as “SEES,” ignoring the ampersands, which are basically there for decoration. This, I presume, is why the person didn’t get “SEA&S&” — because “SEAS” was already taken.
So what states let you do this? Virginia is obviously one, though I think the only punctuation mark allowed is the ampersand. New Hampshire lets you have a plus sign. California lets you have a plus sign, a heart, a star or a hand, but only if you get the special “kids” plate. But the world leader in vanity license-plate punctuation is North Carolina — which basically lets you have anything you want.
I’m serious — basically anything you want. As you can see below, the list of currently available punctuation on North Carolina license plates is as follows: & # ” + $ / = * ? @ ‘ – , ! : .
In fact, when you drive around North Carolina, seeing vanity plates with all sorts of punctuation isn’t uncommon. I remember seeing NO KID$ the last time I was there. There’s a picture floating around the internet of IMAG!NE. When I purchased my Viper, it had “YIPPEE!!!” or something similar — all wonderfully punctuated. And can you imagine the possibilities? Hashtags! Email addresses! You can even almost do a smiley face, although North Carolina surprisingly doesn’t allow an open or closed parentheses.
And so now you know: Some lucky people in some lucky states can get punctuation symbols on their license plates. COOL! HUH? @DGDMURO Find a car for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.