Drivers Seeing Red: DUI License Plates

ke the figurative scarlet letter for adulterers, California drunk drivers will have scarlet license plates if a state lawmaker gets his way. Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, is proposing a law that would force those convicted of driving under the influence to replace their regular plates with red ones that would remain on the car for two years at least.

Specifically, the proposal would require persons convicted of two or more DUI offenses within a ten-year period to surrender the regular plates for all cars registered in his or her name and pay $250 for a new red license plate for each vehicle. The person must keep the plates on his or her car for two years or the entire period of probation, whichever is longer.

During that time, the person would be prohibited from driving other vehicles, with company vehicles excepted.

The assemblyman believes that the scarlet plate would serve two purposes: it would alert other drivers to watch out for the car, especially if it’s around closing time near a bar; and it would shame drivers out of driving drunk again.

He thinks extreme measures are necessary because none of the DUI laws currently in place seem to have had any effect on DUI-related fatalities in California. Nearly a decade ago, about 30% of automobile fatalities involved alcohol; now that percentage is up by six points.

Not surprisingly, the bill is quite controversial. Critics complain of the potential cost as well as privacy issues and unjust, and possibly unconstitutional, treatment of people who may have made one small mistake or no mistake at all.

In single car households, a car with red license plates may have to be driven by people who were not convicted of drunk driving, causing them to be unfairly labeled as something they are not. Some critics are even concerned that repeat offenders with serious alcohol problems will just find other cars to drive.

Additionally, the plates may not even work. Ohio has had a similar policy in effect for several years, adopting yellow plates for DUI offenders in the 1990s. It is not yet known if the plates have had their intended consequences. Ohio public officials say they have been generating debate, however.