Special license tags for DUI offenders re-emerge in California

| 5/11/2006

A California state lawmaker has renewed his push to require some motorists convicted of driving under the influence in the state to wear a “Scarlet Letter,” of sorts.

Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, has reintroduced a bill that would allow judges to require certain repeat drunken drivers to attach red license plates with the white letters “DUI” to their vehicles.

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

The opposition view helped kill a similar effort last month in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

To make his legislation more palatable, Haynes’ revised bill would permit judges to use their discretion on whether the scarlet plates would be issued and for how long a convicted driver would have to drive with a red plate.

The previous version would have required offenders to keep the plates on their vehicles for two years, or for the duration of the person’s probation period, whichever was longer, The Mercury News reported.

Another change to the bill would require a red plate for anyone who has two previous convictions, but only if one of those convictions was for driving under the influence at double the legal limit.

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

The bill – AB406 – would add the requirement that affected drivers pay $250 for the distinctive license plates for each vehicle the person owns or leases. It is in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

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

Similar provisions are 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, Louisiana and Maryland.