What do you think of Ohio’s red-and-yellow license plates for drunk drivers?
It’s been compared by both supporters and opponents to Nathanial
Hawthorne’s classic tale of Puritan shaming, “The Scarlet Letter,” but
Ohio’s revamped drunk driving policy is hammering home the point that
the state means business when it comes to DUI (Driving Under the
In January of 2004, legislators vastly
overhauled the state’s traffic code. Among the changes: “restricted
plates” for DUI offenders who have been granted limited driving
privileges, issued sparingly for almost four decades, would now be
mandatory in drunk driving convictions. The catch is that the tags
feature bright red letters and numbers on a yellow background, clearly
identifying the motorist as a convicted drunk driver. Proponents feel
it is reasonable punishment; those with the tags feel it gives them a
rough six months on the road.
Reintroducing The Scarlet Plate
restricted plates, also known as “DUI plates” and “family plates,” were
first introduced in Ohio in 1967. Though drunk driving convictions
result in license suspension periods lasting up to a year, motorists
can file an appeal – if they need their vehicle to get to work, for
example – and receive limited driving privileges. Up until 2004, judges
were given the choice whether or not to issue the yellow-and-red tags
as well. Most didn’t.
With the state government cracking down
on drunk-driving fatalities and a perceived “ineffective” means of DUI
enforcement, the administration in 2003 made the plates mandatory as
part of a sweeping bill that overhauled Ohio traffic laws. The changes
went into effect Jan. 1, 2004.
“[These plates] are a magnet for
highway patrol,” Pickwick County municipal judge John Adkins told the
Toledo Blade in 2003 just after the measure passed. Adkins, who helped
draft the “Scarlet Plates” law, was one of the few judges who did
regularly issue the tags and felt they produced a positive result when
“We tell people who have to use them that
law-enforcement officers will be looking all over your car,” he said.
“The highway patrol tells me these people with the plates drive right
down the center of the lane going 55 mph.”
In their first two years they were mandatory, the plates received a vast implementation.
to a report in the Columbus Dispatch, holders of restricted plates
jumped from 1,450 in 2003 to 10,835 in 2004. After six months, the law
was adjusted so the plates would be issued beginning with the second
offense, or if the offender had a blood alcohol content higher than .17
(the legal limit for drunk drivers is .08) the first time around.
feels it’s too soon to measure how effective the law has been, but
nevertheless, there were 5,270 restricted plates issued last year —
5,000 fewer than in the first year of the program. Drivers can replace
them with regular tags after their suspension term ends, usually some
time between six months and a year.
However, many motorists stuck with the plates feel those six months are unduly difficult and raise privacy concerns.
a Columbus Dispatch story, Lester Compton called the plates
“embarrassing” and said at best he has been jeered, at worst he has
lost a couple of jobs in his independent contracting business. Angela
Posey said her restricted plates contributed to her losing her job and
made her wary of pulling up to interviews with the yellow-and-red tags.
agreed that the restricted plates haven’t affected their drinking
habits but keep them from driving after drinking. “It scared me
straight,” Posey said.
Similar laws, other states
is the only other state that has a restricted tags law. It confiscates
the vehicle’s metal license plates and issues a temporary paper tag for
DUI offenders; they don’t receive their old tags until after the
suspension period is up.
Last November, however, Florida state
Sen. Mike Fasano proposed a law modeled after Ohio’s where drunk
drivers would receive bright pink plates beginning with the letters
“DUI.” Further, Florida’s law allows for police to pull over these
vehicles without probable cause.
Though its provisions are more
extreme than we see here in Ohio — prompting protest from the ACLU and
other groups — the opposition asserts that the general method of
“scarlet letter plates” used anywhere is a step backwards.
people to public humiliation for crimes is not a proper part of modern
criminal justice,” read an editorial in the Southwest Florida
News-Press. “Humiliation naturally follows many convictions, but we
don’t lock people in pillories as objects of public scorn any more, and
if we did, drunken drivers would hardly be the only candidates.”
Still, opponents feel the tags are a worthy consequence of the crime.
a very small inconvenience compared to the consequences suffered every
day by the families of the victims of drunk drivers,” Franklin County
Municipal Judge Mark S. Froehlich told The Dispatch. “It’s all about
choice. It’s a choice people make. If they’re ultimately convicted of
drunk driving, they pay the price.”
What do you think?
the crime of drunk driving fit the punishment of the red-and-yellow
restricted plates? Or is it an excessive means to humiliate those
convicted of DUI? Have you ever known anybody who received the
restricted plates, and, if so, did it change your perception of them?
Do you think DUI plates will help decrease the rate of drunk driving in
Ohio? Join the discussion and let us know!
After you’ve had your say, see what Columbus Dispatch readers think about the issue: The Hot Issue: Do you think DUI plates are a good method to prevent drunken driving in Ohio? - Columbus Dispatch
• Steering Clear — The Columbus Dispatch
• Ohio’s DUI laws — The Bureau of Motor Vehicles
• Scarlet letters to flag drunken drivers take effect tomorrow — The Toledo Blade
• Traffic Code changes effective Jan. 1, 2004 — The Bureau of Motor Vehicles
Join the Discussion