ROCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE — A common parental phrase has landed a mother in warm water with the state Department of Motor Vehicles over her vanity license plate.
The state has asked bartender Wendy Auger to turn in her 15-year-old plate reading “PB4WEGO,” which stands for “pee before we go,” because phrases related to excretory acts aren’t permitted.
Auger is fighting it, filing an appeal for the recall because she believes it’s a free speech issue and that the phrase isn’t offensive.
“Who has a mom or dad or parental figure who hasn’t said that to kids before leaving the house?” Auger asked. “I’m not the type to sit here with a picket, but come on.”
Auger is one of 92 New Hampshire motorists who have received vanity plate recall letters this year as of last week, compared to 111 in all of 2018, according to the state. In total, there are 152,028 vanity plates on the road in the Granite State, state records show.
A spokesperson for the DMV and Department of Safety said plates must be rejected “when they do not conform to legal requirements” within the administrative rules set by the state Legislature. He said there is a mechanism in place “to recall a plate should one be issued that should not have been.”
However, the spokesperson said the state cannot comment on the specifics of Auger’s case and recall because vehicle registrations are covered under state privacy laws.
Auger questioned why her plate was targeted, as she said she’s never received or heard any complaints. Since Auger recently posted about the plate on Facebook, many have voiced support for her while pointing out the recall seems incongruent with the state “Live Free Or Die” motto printed just below her plate’s banned phrase.
“It would just stink if I don’t have it anymore,” said Auger, who frequently receives honks from other motorists and compliments from people who photograph the plate because they’ve found it funny. “If I have to take it off the plate, then I’m not going to be able to live free.”
The PB4WEGO plate was originally on the Augers’ family minivan. Auger said she had wanted it for several years and “jumped on it” when New Hampshire expanded its character limit from six to seven, allowing her to fit it.
Auger said she considered getting rid of it last year when she bought a new car, but transferred it over after local DMV employees recommended she keep it. Since the recall notice, Auger said she’s received word from at least one DMV employee who claimed they’d help her fight it because they believed the crackdown on PB4WEGO is “absurd.”
It’s unknown when the state will rule on Auger’s appeal. An email sent by the state at the end of last week states the matter is undergoing legal review.
That email also states the rules “were forced to be changed years ago by the state Supreme Court as a result of a court order and now the rules are very specific.” The case referenced in the email is likely a different Rochester vanity plate case that grabbed headlines five years ago.
In 2014, Rochester resident David Montenegro, who has since legally changed his name to human, won a Supreme Court case in which he argued it would be against his First Amendment rights if the government prevented him from getting the plate “COPSLIE.” He argued he should be allowed to have the plate in order to protest what he believes is government corruption.
In siding with human on the issuance of the plate, Supreme Court justices ruled the law banning offensive vanity plates was “unconstitutionally vague.” That led to new administrative rules with stricter and more clearly defined exclusions, replacing old rules that merely said the state could prohibit any vanity plates that a “reasonable person would find offensive to good taste.”
Auger argues the new system still seems subjective to her, given that she was never asked what her plate means before she received the recall notice. She said she could easily claim her plate refers to peanut butter or praying, but she won’t because she believes “talking about peeing isn’t offensive.”
“Where do you draw the line?” she asked.