The Controversy Behind Kentucky’s Smiling License Plates

The plates debuted in 2002, and many Kentucky drivers were unenthusiastic. The Vault examines how state laws have been changed, upsetting frowns.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The sun, the smiley face on Kentucky license plates didn’t resonate,

No one expected such a small design to cause so much angst.

The plate featured a smiling sun, peaking through two hills and the slogan “Kentucky is so friendly.”

An ironic motto with so much disdain on full screen.

“I don’t like the sun ones. I think they look pretty boyish,” said one motorist.

“I don’t see this representing Louisville. Bluegrass represents Kentucky, not the sun,” another added.

Lawmakers took note of the pushback and began working on other options, but not quickly enough.

Some drew on the smiley face while others spent 75 cents on an angry sticker to cover the face. A more expensive choice was to buy a specialty or vanity plate.

Eddie Deskins, then director of Kentucky’s Motor Vehicle Licensing Division, noted that numbers for the most expensive plates were up.

“We’ve definitely seen a recovery in specialty plates,” he said.

Some in the Commonwealth defended the smiling face against hostility.

Lawmakers felt the screams against the plate were strong enough to come up with plenty of ideas to address the so-called horror.

If you were willing to pay an extra dollar, you could cover the face with a state seal sticker.

Kentucky Senator Gary Tapp proposed a bill to put a patriotic plaque in its place.

Change would not be free. Still, many seemed willing to pay extra.

A more permanent solution came in 2005, when lawmakers passed a bill allowing the cabinet to change the plates when they saw fit, instead of every five years.

The new plaque with the state’s new “Unbridled Spirit” logo was revealed later that year.

Two months later, Kentucky residents renewing their license plates could get the new design and finally let the smiling sun go down.

Despite the disdain for the smiley face, it actually won an award. It won the “Automobile License Plate Collectors Association” award for best license plate, beating Maine’s lobster plate by one vote.

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About Harold Fergus

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