Colorado Ponders Shaming Drunk Drivers Via License Plate

colorado dui penalties may include shamingWhat’s worse?

  • To be a drunk driver?
  • To be arrested as a drunk driver?
  • To be known as a drunk driver?

The Colorado State Patrol is thinking that the last option might be the most fearsome one for many people. Recently posted a question on Twitter:

“Would you, personally, support a “scarlet letter” indicator on the license plate of a convicted drunk driver?”

Responses were varied and, as one would expect, spirited. There were those who favored a special Colorado license plate letting the world know that the driver is a DUI offender. Obviously they thought that anyone who engaged in behavior as reckless as drinking and driving deserved some shaming.

The objections, too, were worth considering:

  • Shaming is permanent. You might have your license plate removed after a period, but if the news gets into your social circle and on to social media it’s on the Internet for all time – at least until the US adopts a European-style “right to be forgotten” laws.
  • Not everyone who will drive a car is the one who got the DUI. In a sense, the plate could be conveying false information.
  • The children of drunk drivers have to ride in their parents’ cars, and so they’re being shamed too. Most people would consider this unfair on some level.

Some thought that the plates were extreme and should be reserved for repeat offenders.

A few states already have what are sometimes termed “whiskey plates.” They make the offense obvious to all, while others use a code on the plate which is available only to law enforcement, so police can use that information on the road, but others won’t know that the driver has a DUI record.

Better Idea: Monitor Ignition Interlock Compliance

The poll is gone now, and it doesn’t look as if the Patrol is eager to dwell on the matter. It will probably be a while before Colorado legislators consider the plate seriously. And to be honest, “scarlet letter” plates should not be a priority. Better measures exist to combat drunk driving. Ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are known to bring down the numbers of alcohol-related road fatalities. Right now Colorado DUI penalties include a strong ignition interlock law. If anything needs to be added, it would be more efforts toward ensuring that all DUI offenders ordered to install an ignition interlock actually get the device. 21st Century technological intervention would be much more effective than the 18th Century practice of shaming wrongdoers.