Monday, December 1, 2008

Absurd and Pointless DUI Legislation

I've written previously of my support for responsible alcohol use, and my support for looking at ways to encourage responsible consumption. We know that whenever the neo-prohibitionists plea their cause, they often bring up the drunk driving issue. You'll get no argument from me that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with severely and definitively. However, a 2008 bill being resubmitted to the 2009 Virginia Assembly session is a prime example of the sort of weak action we don't need. HB 1287 states in part:
Any person convicted a third or subsequent time of a violation of §18.2-266 who has a motor vehicle registered in his name in the Commonwealth shall display, on any and all such registered motor vehicles, license plates with red numerals and letters on a yellow background, issued by the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Such license plates shall be displayed for five years following the restoration of the person's driving privilege. If a person is convicted of a subsequent offense during the time when he is already required to display such license plates, the display periods shall run consecutively. The court shall require the person, upon conviction, to surrender to the court the license plates of any and all vehicles registered in his name.

[Emphasis added]

I understand what the sponsors hope to accomplish, but is this really a meaningful action? The absurdity of the penalty struck me right away. Convicted a third or subsequent time? Where is the backbone of our justice system? The bill calls for a mandatory 90 day jail sentence after three DUI offenses within a 10-year period. But once the repeat offender is back on the road, and is re-issued his driver's license again, we'll flag his car with a special alert. Of course, that only applies to a vehicle actually registered to the offender. Forgiveness and sympathy aside, we need to protect against the loss of innocent life. After three or more DUI convictions, it should be pretty obvious that this person, willfully or not, has little regard for his or her own safety, or the safety of family, neighbors, or anyone else on the road. When a drunk driver is headed down the wrong side of the road directly at you, will you feel better seeing the red and yellow license tag warning you, as your car is crumpled around your body?

Maybe the fear of public humiliation could act as a deterrent in some cases. But face it, after three convictions it's probably safe to say the person doesn't really care. Let's put in place serious intervention, and keep repeat offenders off the road. Stop wasting time and money on feel good legislation. Real action on this front, especially action involving education, will remove the DUI argument from the neo-prohibitionist arsenal.

In an ironic twist, it appears that even MADD does not support this legislation.


  1. I moved from VA to outside of Cincinnati last year and there is a similar law here in Ohio. I'm not sure the exact circumstances that will land you with the scarlet letter license plate, or if it has any positive impact, but every once and a while you will see a yellow plate with red letters.

  2. Scarlet letter indeed.

    As you have suggested, David, this would merely direct the DMV to have to waste taxpayer dollars to do something that will have little effect in regards to public safety.

  3. It seems to me that the root of all DUI and other drink related problems is that there is insufficient education from an early enough age in responsible alcohol consumption.

  4. God forbid that we take away potential tax revenue and insurance money from any driver. Government gets more money from keeping those drivers on the road than they do keeping them at home. Sad.


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