(NEXSTAR) — In the U.S., roughly 1 million arrests are made annually for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Outside of the physical consequences of impaired driving — data shows one person is killed every 45 minutes in a crash involving an alcohol-impaired driver — the legal consequences can be heavy. They can also vary by state.
In South Dakota, for example, an impaired driver can lose their driver’s license for at least a month after their first driving under the influence offense. In Wisconsin, a driver can lose their license for six to nine months. If a child is in the car at the time of the offense, that can become a year to a year and a half, plus a jail sentence of five days to six months.
In both states, it’s possible nobody knows the driver has been convicted. That isn’t necessarily the case for residents in the state between Wisconsin and South Dakota.
Under current Minnesota laws, certain drivers convicted of driving while impaired may find themselves with a whiskey plate, which are white with black numbers and letters that always start with the letter W (whiskey represents ‘W’ in the NATO phonetic alphabet, hence the nickname).
Formally known as special registration plates, whiskey plates are issued to drivers that have a valid or limited license status. They’re commonly issued so the driver can get to work and school if their plates have been impounded, or if a family member that hasn’t been convicted of a DWI has to use the driver’s vehicle.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, license plate impoundment is required after a driver has two driving under the influence revocations within 10 years; if their blood-alcohol concentration is twice the legal limit of 0.08; if a child under the age of 16 is in the vehicle; and if a driver was operating with a license that had already been revoked.
Whiskey plates are required to be used for at least a year and until the driver regains a valid license status. Then, the driver can pay a plate reinstatement fee and purchase a standard plate, according to DPS. Drivers can avoid the year-long wait by enrolling in an ignition interlock program. Ignition interlock devices are breathalyzers that can prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking alcohol.
A fellow Midwest state, Ohio, also has special restricted license plates for drunk driving offenders. Since 2004, the plates, sometimes called “party plates,” have been mustard yellow with red print.
The restricted plates can be issued after a driver is convicted of their first offense DWI (OVI in Ohio), and must be ordered for those convicted of a first offense OVI with a high blood alcohol concentration test or after multiple offenses within a certain amount of years. Drivers don’t need to use party plates, they’re only required if the person is serving a suspension period and has requested limited driving privileges, according to the Cincinnati-based law firm of Luftman, Heck and Associates.
Georgia also issues special plates that bear “a special series of numbers and letters so as to be identifiable by law enforcement officers.” A driver convicted of a second or subsequent DUI within five years can apply for these plates, known as “hardship license plates,” if someone else within their household relies on the driver’s vehicle for transportation, according to the Law Office of T. Rabb Wilkerson.
Unlike Minnesota and Ohio, these plates are slightly less noticeable, differing only by the number and letter series and not in appearance. Many states, like Iowa, also issue temporary restricted licenses in situations like this.
Plates like those issued in Minnesota and Ohio are intended to help law enforcement recognize drivers with a DWI history and, according to some, to deter others from driving while impaired to avoid the noticeable plates.
In 2003, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for a driver to be pulled over simply because they have whiskey plates, KARE reports. Lawmakers, arguing the plates don’t prevent drunk or impaired driving, have on multiple occasions tried to get rid of the plates, to no avail.
Other groups, like the ACLU, have also opposed the “scarlet letter” plates, saying they unfairly humiliate offenders and have even led to job loss for some.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving Ohio has instead called for the use of ignition interlock devices, saying they are the best way to prevent drunken driving.
“Party plates do not stop any one from driving drunk,” the organization said, according to the Dayton Daily News. “We feel that the party place is not shaming, but a form of notification.”