Already established in Minnesota, now a push by states across the country has reenergized an effort to force those who have received a drunk driving conviction to brand themselves with special license plates identifying them for their crime. Just a few weeks ago Montana legislators proposed a bill, House Bill No. 276, which would force those convicted of breaking state DUI laws to purchase bright orange license plates. Those convicted of driving drunk would have to keep the plates on their car for five years
In 2012, Iowa, New York and Washington state each introduced similar legislation, with varying degrees of success. New York’s measure has been continued into the new legislative session while Iowa’s failed and Washington’s was postponed for future consideration. In the past two years, seven states have tried to pass such legislation, with Georgia successfully implementing a version of the special plate legislation.
The first state to require the use of such identifying license plates, known by many as “party plates” or here in Minnesota, “whiskey plates,” was Ohio. The state legislature passed a law in 1994 that mandated the plates. The license plates are all bright yellow and have red numbers and are given out to those drivers who are convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol concentration greater than .17. Also, drivers convicted of more than one DUI offense are required to use the plates.
In Minnesota, if a driver gets more than two DWI convictions within 10 years, receives a DWI with aggravating factors present or is found driving after a license suspension or revocation, that person’s normal license plates can be revoked and swapped out with the state’s whiskey plates, officially known as a license plate impoundment. The license plate impoundment effects not only the alleged drunk driver, but everyone else in the family who might drive any car owned by or registered to the convicted driver.
The plates are known as “whiskey plates’ because in Minnesota all of the special license plates begin with the letter “W.” The plates are all white with blue or black text and must be used for the full length of that person’s license suspension.
These plates are very important because they give other drivers and police officers an easy way to instantly identify what some might consider risky drivers. While law enforcement officials insist this is a good thing and can help keep the public safe, opponents of the law believe it achieves no purpose other than humiliate already embarrassed drivers by forcing them to drive around town with a scarlet letter on their back bumper.
Though police are required to have a reason to stop drivers, even those with whiskey plates, there’s no way to deny that those drivers with special drunk driver license plates are at a special risk of being under the watchful eye of officers. It should go without saying that if you’re driving around Minnesota with such license plates late at night or near bars you should be aware that any passing officer will likely be looking for a reason to stop your car.
Source: “DUI Bill Calls for Orange License Plates,” by Chudney Matta, published at KFBB.com.