Virginia DUI and “Scarlet Letter” License Plates

ignition interlockVirginia is one of many states in the U.S. with strict laws regarding DUI and alcohol-related traffic offenses. Still, the struggle of the Commonwealth to keep drunk drivers off of the road has taken many years and special efforts of lawmakers, including introducing legislation regarding special DUI license plates for convicted offenders. For example, in 2008, a state delegate attempted to implement the use of the “scarlet letter” DUI license plates in order to identify anyone with more than one Virginia DUI conviction on the road.

“Scarlet letter” license plates are visual indicators of a convicted drunk driver through special colors or the letter/number sequence used on the license plate. Similar penalties in Ohio and Minnesota have been in use for several years, helping law enforcement and other drivers identify convicted drunk drivers who are still allowed to operate vehicles, but, who may also still pose a safety risk to others. These “scarlet letter” Virginia DUI license plates were to serve the same purpose in the Commonwealth, but, many feel the license plates were more about shaming the offender than helping to keep the streets safe from drunk drivers.

The Virginia DUI law regarding the special license plates was not passed, leaving the “scarlet letter” DUI plates behind for more technological advancements that assure sobriety behind the wheel, like ignition interlock devices.  With an ignition interlock device, the safety of the public and of the driver is ensured, as the devices disable a vehicle if alcohol is detected during a breath test prior to starting the vehicle and while it is in motion. As one of many states that requires the mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device for all DUI offenders, Virginia is reaping the benefit of proactive action against drunk drivers rather than marking them with special DUI license plates that may not discourage drunk driving at all.

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