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The Vault: Kentucky drivers unimpressed with smiley face plates

The plates debuted in 2002 and many Kentucky drivers were not enthused. The Vault takes a look at how state laws were changed turning frowns upside down.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The sunshine, smiley face on Kentucky’s license plates were not resonating,

No one anticipated such a small design could cause so much anguish.

The plate featured a smiley faced sun, peaking through two hills and the slogan “Kentucky, it’s that friendly.”

An ironic motto with so much disdain on full display.

"I don't like the sunshine ones. I think they are kind of juvenile looking," a motorist said.

"I don't see that it represents Louisville. The Bluegrass represents Kentucky, not the sunshine,” another added.

Lawmakers took notice of the pushback and started working on other options, but not quick enough.

Some drew over the smiley face while others spent 75 cents on an angry sticker to cover up the face. A pricier choice was buying a specialty or vanity plate.

Then director of Kentucky's Division of Motor Vehicle Licensing, Eddie Deskins, noted the numbers for the more expensive plates were up.

"We have seen a pickup in specialty plates certainly," he said.

Some in the commonwealth defended the smiley face against the hostility.

Lawmakers sensed the cries against the plate were strong enough to propose numerous ideas to remedy the so-called eyesore.

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

Kentucky senator Gary Tapp proposed a bill to put a patriotic plate in its place.

The change wouldn't 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 plates when they see fit, instead of every five years.

The new plate featuring 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 set.

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

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