Arizona MVD details new license plate system after mishap

The Arizona MVD underwent a huge change this year. It updated a decades-old computer system, that's supposed to fix a lot of problems.

But, one Valley man learned that even the simplest of changes to the system can lead to a few speed bumps.

Joel Griego’s Honda Civic got new plates in June. The letters and numbers on the metal seemed offensive, he explains, "The moment I opened up the envelope right away, I have dyslexia so could see numbers backwards, I opened it and said, 'Great, it says swastika on it.' My cousins didn’t realize it, they’re like, 'Really?' And so I spelled it out for them and their like, 'Wow.'"


Not an exact combination of letters for the word swastika, but it sounds out pretty similar.

"If that’s the plate they gave me, that’s the plate they gave me. I’m just going to go with it," Griego said.

For a few weeks, everything was fine. But eventually, drivers took notice. A Phoenix resident on Twitter posted a picture of the plate thinking it was a personalized combination and wrote, "How did swastika get approved as a vanity plate?!”

The motor vehicle department responded immediately.

"We took a look at that and realized that auto-generated plate and the interpretation was not something necessarily a computer would recognize," said Doug Nick with the Motor Vehicle Department.

An MVD team reviewed it the same day. He says usually the issues are with vanity plates and that auto-generated combinations don’t cause problems, typically.

"It’s rare but it does happen when you’re dealing with numbers and letters at such a high volume eventually there’s going to be some that people find objectionable," Nick said.

In April, FOX 10 reported the MVD updated a decades-old computer system, and one of the many changes also reimagined auto-generated license plates.

So, they are now completely random instead of being in sequence. The new system kicks out obviously inappropriate combinations.

According to data from the MVD, 4.5 million, or 51% of the registered plates in Arizona, are auto-generated on the classic desert background.

184,029 are vanity plates.

What’s neat about the new software is that there’s no limit to how many plate types there can be.

For instance, there’s 15,026 ASU plates and 14,769 UofArizona plates. As for professional teams, the Arizona Cardinals is the clear front runner with over 60,000 plates.

Now, the legislature can approve as many types of plates as they want, like a classic car, energy-efficient vehicles, supporting the Special Olympics, or Gold Star families.

Griego hopes it means the computer software will catch more plates like the one he received, saying, "I don’t want to wish this on anybody. It’s a pain in the butt."

The MVD got him a new plate a week later.

"We want to err on the side of caution. It’s certainly not something we want to defend if something sounds so offensive especially something like that which is a symbol of evil ... we don’t want to go down that road, obviously," Nick said.

The MVD says if you are offended by a plate, reach out to them and let them know so they can exchange the plate for you.