Could “Party Plates” Help In Getting Drunk Drivers Off the Road?

As legislators in New Hampshire consider changes that would toughen our state’s driving while intoxicated laws and as new, controversial measures are being introduced for legislators’ consideration, the state of Ohio enacted a highly visible, unique approach.

Since the beginning of 1967, Ohio has issued specialized license plates for DWI offenders. These are informally referred to as “party plates” or “scarlet letter plates”. In the past, these plates were issued to offenders via the specific request of a judge; however, Ohio’s drunk driving laws underwent sweeping changes in 2004. Since then, the law requires these plates to be issued to offenders whose BAC levels were twice the legal limits or for those who have two or more DWI offenses on their record.

Motorists can have these regular tags replaced with traditional, standard issue plates once their period of mandatory license suspension has ended, which generally ranges from six months to one year. Since the law’s overhaul, the number of special “scarlet letter” plates in Ohio rose from 1,450 in 2003 to approximately 10,835 in 2004, according to statistics released by the Annenberg Classroom.

In 2003, in an interview with the Toledo Blade newspaper, one Ohio judge described “party plates” as a “magnet” for law enforcement officials.

Ohio motorists who are required to use the plates describe them as “humiliating”, and there have been some complaints by motorists who say they have lost their jobs after the special plates were spotted by their coworkers or bosses.

There are currently a handful of other states who have enacted similar measures or are considering doing so. In the state of Minnesota, motorists who have accumulated two or more DWIs within a 10 year timespan must use a special plate that has a plain white background with either blue or black text. In a similar fashion, Oregon completed a pilot program last year that required individuals convicted of a DWI to affix a special sticker to their automobile’s license plate that notified other motorists that the driver had either been charged with or convicted of a DWI.

Do party plates actually work? Currently, there are no research statistics to indicate yay or nay, but George Mathis, a blogger and writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, says that, if one were to examine DWI arrests that do not include fatalities, Ohio’s statistics are among the highest in the nation. Mathis postulates that the bright yellow tag serves to profile drivers, thereby increasing the number of DWI arrests.

Those who support the idea of specialized plates for DWI offenders believe that the plates assist law enforcement and other motorists by making them aware that a high risk motorist is on the road. Opponents of this program state that these special plates only server to embarrass the offender and to distinguish them as a special target for police officers. Furthermore, they state that it is unfair to put these plates on automobiles that are driven by multiple members of the same household. Detractors also contend that adding these plates to vehicles that are also used for small businesses is harmful to the business’s reputation, which could potentially be tarnished.

In the last eight years, seven states have introduced to their own house or senate legislation that would necessitate special license plates under specific circumstances:

§  Tennessee (SB 2032, failed)

§  Washington (HB 1955, still in process)

§  South Dakota (SB 116, failed)

§  Maryland (HB 657, failed)

§  Iowa (IA A 158, failed)

§  New York (NY A 545, still in process)

§  Washington (WA H 1955, still in process)


What do you think of requiring special license plates for DWI offenders? Do you think such a requirement would only serve to embarrass offenders, or do you think it could improve the safety of New Hampshire’s roadways? Sound off in the comments below and let us know your thoughts.


While similar laws have not been yet introduced in New Hampshire, it is entirely possible that they could in the near future. Driving while intoxicated is a criminal offense that New Hampshire takes quite seriously, and our state’s laws are among the harshest in the nation. To avoid the maximum New Hampshire DWI penalties, it is imperative that you consult a reputable NH DWI attorney as soon as possible after you have been accused of drunk driving.