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Repeat DUI Offenders To Use ‘Scarlet Letter’ License Plates

As states like Pennsylvania ponder over the changes needed to toughen drunken driving laws, and Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman takes measures to get repeat offenders off the roads, the state of Ohio takes a more visible but different approach to fight repeat drunk driving.

The state of Ohio has been issuing special license plates for DUI offenders since 1967, also called “party plates” or “scarlet letter plates”. The plates, which are yellow in color, have red-lettering on them and were ordered to be issued by judges. However, an overhaul of Ohio’s drunken driving laws in 2004 authorized the use of these plates for second offenses as well as for drunk driving incidents where the driver had a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit.

As a result of this overhaul, the number of DUI license plates increased to 10,835 in 2004, from just 1,450 in 2003.

These special plates can be replaced back to regular tags after six months to a year, when the drivers license suspension period is over. According to an Ohio Judge, these plates are “a magnet for law enforcement.”

Pickwick County municipal judge John Adkins, who helped draft the law said, “We tell people who have to use them that law enforcement officers will be looking all over your car. The highway patrol tells me these people with the plates drive right down the center of the lane going 55 mph.”

According to some motorists who have to use the plates, the plates are humiliating and caused them to lose their jobs when co-workers and bosses spotted them.

A number of other states have also considered requiring the use of these special tags for DUI offenders. For example, the state of Minnesota requires drivers with two or more DUIs in a period of 10-years are required to use a plain white license plate with black or blue text.

Similarly, the state of Oregon completed a pilot program last year that required offenders to affix a special sticker to their license plates after being charged or convicted of drunk driving.

Despite all these efforts, the question remains if the plates really work? According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer/blogger George Mathis, “If you look at DUI arrests that do not include fatalities, Ohio ranks among the highest in the nation (14th). Perhaps, the bright yellow tag is a bit like profiling and increases DUI arrests?”

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