NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Whiskey-Plate Laws Aim to Combat Drunk Driving

March 1, 2011

Washington has become the latest state to see a push for a so-called whiskey-plate law to combat drunk driving, a move defense lawyers and civil libertarians say can unfairly stigmatize offenders, and sometimes their families as well, reports the Wall Street Journal.

  • The law would require first-time drunk drivers to replace their license plates with easy-to-spot tags that end with the uppercase letter "Z," a signal to police to pay close attention to the car.
  • Minnesota, an early adopter of such a law, uses the letter "W" -- hence the term "whiskey plate" -- on a plain white background.
  • Offenders in Washington would be required to display the special plates for three years after their driving privileges are restored.

Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said whiskey plates were part of a "trend of overcriminalization" in the United States.  "These sorts of laws just create obstacles to offenders getting fresh starts and moving forward with their lives," she said.

A handful of other states have adopted similar laws.

  • In Minnesota, certain drunk-driving offenders are required to attach special plates to their car for a year after their driving privileges are restored.
  • An earlier version of the Minnesota law was enacted in 1988.
  • Drunk-driving-related fatalities have fallen steadily since.

Source: Ashby Jones, "Some Call Tags for Drunk Drivers Wrong Turn," Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2011.

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