New bill could allow Minnesota drivers convicted of DWI to sidestep 'whiskey plates'

You can call them a scarlet letter or a mark of shame, if you will. But now, drivers are getting a chance to avoid the special license plates that certain DWI offenders are required to have on their car.

Under proposed legislation, those drivers are being offered a bargaining chip to avoid whiskey plates as part of an effort to get more people on ignition interlock devices.

“The license plate looks different, but it doesn’t do anything to ensure public safety,” said David Bernstein. “Someone can still drive impaired if they choose to do that.”

Thanks to a court ruling several years ago, law enforcement isn’t allowed to pull people over that have what are commonly known as “whiskey plates” to randomly check if they’ve been drinking. 

“Right now, there’s no public safety purpose at all,” said State Senator Ron Latz.

Latz has introduced a bill that would allow DWI offenders to avoid the plates if they get an ignition interlock -- a device that the driver has to blow into before starting their car -- to ensure they haven’t been drinking.

“We’re all better off if someone’s driving with ignition interlock and we’re all better off if someone has an alcohol problem is finding a way to deal with it effectively,” said Latz.

And to the critics who say we shouldn’t lessen penalties on those who drink and drive, supporters including Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Minnesotans for Safe Driving, say this will do more to protect Minnesotans than whiskey plates ever did.

“It adds bureaucracy, it adds administrative work, it adds cost to the system and there’s no evidence to suggest it does anything to protect the safety of the public,” concluded Latz, “to deter people from driving while impaired.”

In 2018, there were nearly 27, 000 DWI arrests, nearly 28,000 in 2019, and just over 12,000 ignition interlock participants.