Special license tags sought for DUI offenders in several states

| 4/7/2006

A California Assembly panel has rejected a bill that would have required some motorists convicted of driving under the influence in the state to wear a Scarlet Letter, of sorts.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee voted 5-2 Tuesday, April 4, to kill a measure that sought to require two-time offenders to attach red license plates with the letters “DUI” to their vehicles. Offenders would have been required to keep the plates on their vehicles for two years, or for the duration of their probation period, whichever was longer.

Opponents said the proposal would lead to unfair scrutiny and labeling of individuals. Supporters said it is needed to help the public to know that the driver could be dangerous.

Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, said before the vote that the scarlet plates also would alert law enforcement.

“If you see a car with a red plate in front of a bar at midnight, maybe it’s someone you want to watch,” Haynes told The Sacramento Bee. “Finally, it frankly does make people think twice about wanting to drive around drunk.”

California law now requires two-time DUI offenders to face possible jail time, fines and fees, alcohol-abuse treatment, license sanctions or restrictions and community service.

The bill – AB2099 – would have added the requirement that courts order people convicted of drunken driving two or more times within a 10-year period to pay $250 for the distinctive license plates for each vehicle the person drives.

According to The Bee, Haynes’ bill could have affected more than 30,000 drivers in California.

Similar provisions are already in place in other states.

Georgia and Minnesota use a special combination of numbers or letters to identify motorists convicted of driving while intoxicated, while Ohio makes yellow plates with red numbers mandatory, The Associated Press reported.

In addition, Michigan uses paper tags to identify repeat offenders, while Oregon and Washington put a zebra sticker over the plate of habitual offenders.

Other states have debated similar rules this year, including Florida, Maryland and Louisiana.

In Florida, the House Transportation Committee has approved a bill that would require bright orange-pink colored license plates with the letters “DUI” on vehicles driven by people with restricted driving privileges due to convictions for driving under the influence. The bill – HB627 – has been forwarded to the Justice Council.

A provision was dropped from the bill that would have permitted police to make random stops on vehicles displaying the special license plates.

However, that type of provision was included in a Maryland bill that would have applied to repeat offenders. That bill – HB1315 – was turned down by a House panel.

A bill awaiting consideration on the Louisiana Senate floor would require repeat offenders to attach special license plates with the letters “DWI” to their vehicles.

The bill – SB47 – would require offenders to keep the plates on their vehicles for five years. The plates would cost $25 a year, in addition to regular license fees.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor