Friday, March 21, 2008

‘Badge of dishonor’ could invite more than bargained for

Some state lawmakers around the country believe that imposing differently colored license plates on the vehicles of convicted drunken drivers will be a deterrent as well as a law-enforcement mechanism.

The intentions might be OK – drunken driving kills thousands each year and ruins a great many more lives – but the sanity ends as soon as the neighborhood vigilantes or vandals provide unintended consequences.

What happens when someone other than the convicted driver, such as an innocent family member, borrows the car containing the “badge of dishonor” and later becomes the victim of vandals or a crime? Aren’t we getting dangerously close to inviting such treatment by implementing these beacons?

I agree that existing laws for DUI or DWI need to be strict and penalties harsh, but states that bestow the “Scarlett Letter” on everyone using the vehicle will bring more than just shame.

Thorough research by Land Line Magazine State Legislative Editor Keith Goble shows that Ohio mandates yellow plates with red numbers for drivers convicted of DUI. I wonder if any of these people or, more importantly, their innocent loved ones, have dealt with unintended consequences.

Iowa, Georgia and Minnesota use a special combination of numbers or letters to identify motorists convicted of DUI. Law enforcement keeps an eye on these folks but at least they are not forced to wear a beacon that could invite vigilantes.

“In addition, Michigan uses paper tags to identify repeat offenders, while Oregon and Washington put a zebra sticker over the plate of habitual offenders,” Goble reports.

Zebras? Aren’t they prey animals in their natural environment?

Bravo to lawmakers in Virginia and Washington who recently chose not to advance legislation to implement these plates. There are other ways to punish offenders including jail time.