ohio license plate

Picture shows an Ohio "scarlet letter" license plate, issued to repeat DUI offenders.

If you're finding this article on social media, it was originally published May 14, 2015.

While Pennsylvania legislators mull changes to toughen the commonwealth's drunken driving laws - and Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman is backing other measures he thinks could get more repeat offenders off the roads - the state of Ohio has taken a different, more visible approach.

Since 1967, Ohio has issued special license plates for DUI offenders, sometimes called "scarlet letter plates" or "party plates." The red-lettering-on-yellow plates were initially issued at the behest of judges. But a sweeping overhaul of Ohio's drunken driving laws in 2004 mandated the plates for second offenses and instances where a driver's blood-alcohol level is twice the legal limit.

Drivers can replace the special plates with their regular tags once their license suspension period ends after six months to a year.

As a result of the overhaul, the number of DUI or "scarlet letter" plates increased from 1,450 in 2003 to 10,835 in 2004, according to a report by Annenberg Classroom.

The plates, one Ohio judge told the Toledo Blade newspaper in 2003, "are a magnet for law enforcement."

"We tell people who have to use them that law enforcement officers will be looking all over your car," said Pickwick County municipal judge John Adkins, who helped draft the law. "The highway patrol tells me these people with the plates drive right down the center of the lane going 55 mph."

Some motorists who have to use the plates complain they are humiliating and caused them to lose jobs after co-workers or bosses spotted the yellow-and-red tags.

Several other states have or have considered measures requiring DUI offenders to use special plates. In Minnesota, drivers who have had two or more DUIs in a 10-year period are required to use plain white plate with black or blue text.

Oregon last year completed a pilot program that required offenders to affix a special sticker to their license plates notifying motorists that the operator was charged with or convicted of drunken driving.

Do the plates work? Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer/blogger George Mathis notes that "If you look at DUI arrests that do not include fatalities, Ohio ranks among the highest in the nation (14th).

Perhaps, he asks, "the bright yellow tag is a bit like profiling and increases DUI arrests?"

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