We have all seen them: those Minnesota license plates that are longer than the standard six characters and always start with a W. And we know what they mean: the vehicle’s owner has multiple DUIs on their record.
However, these license plates, commonly known as “whiskey plates” because of the W, may soon become rare in St. Paul. That’s because the law recently changed to give another option to people facing being sentenced to putting the plates on their car, truck or SUV.
Previously, if a Minnesotan was convicted of two DUIs within ten years, or more than two within a shorter period of time, the judge would generally make whiskey plates part of their sentence. Besides publicly shaming the driver, whiskey plates hanging from a vehicle gave police the right to pull over a driver, even without any evidence of wrongdoing. But a 2003 ruling by the state supreme court ended this practice.
A new alternative for those facing whiskey plates
In June, a new law went into effect that gives people convicted of DUI a choice: if the judge sentences them to put whiskey plates on their vehicle, they can choose to install an ignition interlock device instead.
These devices attach to the ignition and won’t let the driver start the vehicle until they blow into its tube. The device measures the breath’s alcohol level and, if it does not exceed 0.02 percent, lets the driver start the engine.
Which would you choose?
Choosing an ignition interlock would give you privacy over your criminal record and maintain your driving privileges. But the devices are expensive. For some people, the embarrassment of having whiskey plates may be worth the financial savings. Overall, though, it would not be surprising if most Minnesotans put in the difficult position of choosing one or the other will pick the ignition interlock.