Go to navigation Go to content

DUI License Plates—A Shameful Trend

Several State legislatures—including those of Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota and Oregon—have added a new, imaginative punishment for those convicted of DUI…

Special, brightly colored license plates.

This new “scarlet letter”—as many have called it—is in addition to the already-long list of punishments that offenders are subjected to: jail time, steep fines, higher insurance rates, a suspended license, mandatory drug and alcohol counseling, and others.

The apparent rational is that shame is a powerful deterrent. It would also give other motorists the opportunity to steer clear of the vehicle that bears the visually striking plates. 

The assumption seems to that those with a DUI in their past are usually, if not always, drunk whenever they get behind the wheel. So, naturally, they should be given the widest possible berth. 

If you take a moment to imagine the kinds of occurrences that DUI would yield, we end up with a pretty frightening picture.

  • Carrying a DUI plate would surely prompt snap judgments and angry, disapproving looks from other motorists. The non-judgement person might still be irresistibly compelled to stare, if only to see what someone convicted of DUI looks like. These are behaviors, as we all know, that everyone is prone to. However, who's to say that the person driving the car was the same person who was convicted of DUI? Imagine a family, in which the husband was recently convicted of DUI, that shares one car. Imagine, further, that the wife now has to take the kids to school in car with the incriminating, bright yellow plates.  
  • A paranoid and overcautious driver, upon seeing the plates on another car, would be inclined to get as far away from the car as possible—effectively assuming, again, that a past offense means a perpetually drunk driver. This kind of response, if anything, would cause accidents and disrupt the flow of traffic.      
  • Police officers—who are human, after all—couldn't help but be far more likely to pull someone over if the car bore the florescent plates. Past DUI convictions do not, and should not, constitute probable cause. 
The point is that, when we actually think about the real, everyday effects that DUI license plates would have, we realize that...well, we realize that supporters of the idea didn't really think about the real, everyday effects they would have. They were just thinking that DUI is bad, so harsher penalties must be good.

In principle, the idea is cruel, unfair, excessive and extremely problematic. In practice, it would be far worse.

Surely, MADD—Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, the nation’s most passionate anti-DUI crusaders—would strongly support the idea of special DUI plates.

No so.

According to Katherine Kovacich, regional administrator for MADD in the Pacific Northwest, Mothers Against Drunk Driving "is not into shunning" convicted DUI offenders.

It’s a strange world we live in when those who are convicted of DUI are forced to endure the type of shame-based punishments that we otherwise reserve for sex offenders.