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License Plates Serve as Scarlet Letter in Some States View Larger Image

Steve Wagner

Society has long grappled with how best to prevent the many, many alcohol-related accidents that occur each year, hopeful for initiatives or campaigns that will make a dent in what is a huge problem. Over 300,000 people are injured or die as a result of a drunk driving accident each year in the United States, including the one person who is killed every 52 minutes as a result of a drunk driver’s terrible decision to take the wheel.

Some initiatives have been very successful. It would be hard to overstate the impact of the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and that organization’s efforts at curtailing driving while intoxicated. In fact, drunk driving deaths in the United States has been halved since MADD was founded in 1980.

Other organizations have attempted fairly innovative campaigns, such as London’s Department of Transport setting up a bathroom mirrors in a bar to simulate a drunk driving victim hitting a windshield and breaking the glass. Yakima, Washington allowed police to confiscate and sell the vehicle of driver who accumulate two or more DUIs. In a brilliant move, a club in Belgium equipped their parking lot with a breathalyzer test that refused to raise the departure barrier for those that failed it, preventing drunk club-goers from being able to leave the lot.

It may surprise some to know that there are states in the U.S. that use unusually-colored license plates or series of letters on license plates to indicate those who have been convicted of driving while under the influence. Minnesota and Georgia both have instances in which special, visually-identifying license plates may be required for repeat offenders, such as when the license is restricted. Due to the required use of the letter “W” in the Minnesota alternate plates, they are often referred to as “whiskey plates.”

Our neighbor, Ohio, has one of the longer standing and seemingly, more shame-reliant options: bright yellow license plates. In a policy put into place in 2004, it allows a judge to require a driver on a restricted license to use the readily-identifiable plates. Proponents of the plates say it helps law enforcement to be more attuned to potentially dangerous drivers and to recognize those who may be breaking license restrictions. Those opposed believe this kind of public shaming is inappropriate and possibly harmful to the individual, as it identifies the person not only to law enforcement, but also to other drivers, friends, school officials, etc. Opponents believe this is not truly a utilitarian policy but instead one focused largely on the shaming and shunning of those who may have made a terrible mistake not requiring such life-altering visibility.

It is controversial, no doubt, with even MADD coming out in opposition of such shaming techniques. Some states have tried to pass similar policies but seen them defeated in their legislatures. Others have passed and tried such policies but later repealed them. Ohio seems unlikely to do so, having had their policy and practice in place since 2004.

Are you paying the price for someone who was driving while drunk? Was your designated driver responsible for your injuries because he or she was drinking after promising to stay sober? Wagner Reese is an Indianapolis-based personal injury law firm with years of experience pursuing and winning vehicular accident and wrongful death cases. Call us now for a FREE consultation: (888) 204-8440.


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