License Plates for Criminals: Proposal to Mark Convicted Drivers

May 30, 2014

Would you be in favor of convicted criminals—specifically drivers convicted of DUI, being forced to display specially colored license plates that denote their conviction? A recent poll revealed that most U.S. drivers were in favor of just such a proposal, but is it fair and is it constitutional? The argument has some serious pros and cons to consider.

License Plates are the new Scarlet Letter

Having a DUI on your record is bad. Really bad. Most folks who have one are ashamed of it. It’s not information you would voluntarily share with others if you could help it and it’s within reason to think that others might treat you differently, or at least think of you differently, if they knew you had a DUI conviction.

While drivers convicted of DUI have certainly proved themselves to be a hazard to public safety, is it fair to publicly shame them? If they’ve already dealt with the punishment that comes with a DUI conviction, what purpose does it serve to make strangers aware of their conviction? Most drivers convicted of a DUI will already face a seven year penalty in the form of paying significantly higher insurance premiums—on top of fines, substance abuse classes, and other court-ordered punishment. Is it fair that we mark these drivers who, within reason, could be recovering from making a poor life choice? Didn’t anyone read the Scarlet Letter?

As of 2013 two states were prepared to implement just such a plan. New York, whose proposition has been referred to the Transportation Committee and North Carolina whose proposal is also awaiting approval by their Transportation Committee.  Ohio has been using this system for DUI offenders since 2004.

License Plates for Identifying Other Kinds of Drivers

In addition to license plates that identify drunk drivers, other propositions are cropping up for the use of special identification plates. Suggestions for special ID license plates include:

  • Student Drivers (drivers with less than 1 year of driving experience)
  • Drivers over 70 years old
  • Drivers with non-driving related convictions (sex crimes, robbery, etc.)

Of the 2,000 survey participants, 58% supported identification plates for student drivers. 49% supported special license plates for drivers over 70. 58% supported special license plates for drivers convicted of texting while driving. The largest number of survey respondents supported identification plates for drivers who had been convicted of a DUI with a solid 69%.

Identification License Plates History

This program isn’t new. Some states have tried it as far back as the 1980’s. In more recent history, a number of states have attempted to implement identification plate laws of varying degrees. For example, in Virginia in 2008, a bill was proposed to have drivers convicted of 3 or more DUI’s to display yellow license plates with red letters and numbers for a maximum of 5 years. The bill died in committee in 2009. You can view a more detailed history of DUI identification plates on the NHTSA website.

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