In 2018, there were almost 27,000 DWI arrests. In 2019, there were nearly 28,000. In 2019, 12,000 of these agreed to utilize ignition interlock devices (IIDs).
IIDs work to ensure that someone who is under the influence cannot start his/her vehicle. Granted, while there are ways around IIDs—such as having a sober friend blow into the tube so the car can be started—they are still far more able to protect the public.
Minnesota drivers may soon have the opportunity to avoid having to put whiskey plates on their vehicles if they agree to install IIDs instead. This proposed legislation is part of a statewide push to increase the number of people who use IIDs and to hopefully promote public safety.
What are whiskey plates?
In Minnesota, many alcohol-related offenses enable the state to impound the driver’s license plates and issue the “Scarlet Letter” whiskey plates. Whiskey plates look different than regular state plates. They all start with the letter W, are followed by a second letter and then four numerals.
License plate impoundment may occur if the driver has a prior DWI conviction or DWI-related license revocation within ten years, has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .16—double the legal threshold—or higher, had a minor under the age of 16 in the vehicle at the time of the arrest, or has had his/her driver’s license canceled as inimical to public safety.
As would be expected, with whiskey plates on one’s vehicle, one will be watched more closely by law enforcement. However, since 2003, a Minnesota Supreme Court decision has resulted in law enforcement being prohibited from pulling over a motorist simply because s/he has a whiskey plate to randomly check for intoxication. Instead, police must have reasonable suspicion that the driver is, in fact, drunk or has committed another traffic violation.
Even if the vehicle’s owner was not the driver at the time of arrest, s/he may be required to place whiskey plates on his/her vehicle as the state’s impoundment order applies to both the vehicle owner and the DWI offender. DWI offenders are also required to obtain whiskey plates on any and all vehicles they own.
In sum, whiskey plates do little more than let everyone know the driver has an alcohol-related violation and/or conviction. They do nothing to promote public safety.
The pending legislation
According to Senator Ron Latz (46, DFL) who introduced the bill, whiskey plates serve no public safety purpose whatsoever. He argues that the administrative costs, added bureaucracy and overall additional costs to the criminal justice system fail to deter drunk drivers and do not make the roads safer.
In response, Latz’s bill enables DWI offenders to bypass whiskey plates if they agree to install an IID. He says that the public is considerably safer if a person uses an IID because this also demonstrates that s/he is finding a way to address his/her alcohol problem.
While there are critics who are skeptical of any effort to lessen penalties for DWIs, proponents agree that this proposal will, indeed, protect Minnesotans far more than whiskey plates have and would. Among these supporters are Minnesotans for Safe Driving and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Latz’s proposed changes to the state’s DWI Ignition Interlock Law engage the DWI Task Force to eliminate whiskey plates in lieu of IIDs as well as to eliminate the SR22 insurance requirement unless a history of insurance violations exist, to eliminate limited driver’s licenses, and eliminate the written test to get one’s driver’s license reinstated.