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Viewpoint: What's up with 'whiskey plates?'

I am always thankful when readers suggest topics to me. Ken, a reader in Hugo, asked that I write about Minnesota’s “special registration plates” which are sometimes referred to by the more colorful moniker of “whiskey plates.”

Have you ever seen these? They are a plainer-looking license plate that starts with the letter W. It is that first letter - coupled with what they mean - that has prompted their nickname.

Whiskey plates are issued for a variety of reasons all related in some way to illegal drinking and driving. They are issued after someone has had their regular license plates impounded for a designated offense.

Let’s assume a fictionalized family with a father, mother, and two teenage drivers. Dad just spent too much time socializing with his buddies after the big softball game and got pulled over and arrested for DWI. Will his plates be impounded? Generally speaking, yes, if any of the following occur:

-He refuses to take a blood, breath, or urine test; or,

-He scores 0.16 or more on such a test; or,

-He had an earlier DWI conviction or related license revocation within the last 10 years; or,

-There is a child under the age of 16 in the car; or,

-He was driving, even without drinking, when his license was revoked for too many earlier DWIs.

If any of these facts exist, then the license plates for every vehicle that is in his name - or that he uses - will be revoked for a minimum period of one year. This means the vehicles that his wife and kids typically use will also have their plates impounded.

The state will also monitor to make sure that Dad does not purchase or sell any vehicles during this time period, except within specified parameters.  These provisions are designed to make sure that Dad can’t circumvent the law through sham transactions.

As vehicles without plates cannot be legally driven in Minnesota, whiskey plates are issued, during the year of impoundment, when it is shown that someone, other than the violator, will be driving the car or when the violator has obtained either a limited or fully reinstated driver’s license. A $50 fee is charged to obtain the plates and they have to be kept up to date with current tabs just like regular license plates.

There are a number of reasons for whiskey plates. First, it is hoped that the fear of having plates impounded will deter some people from driving drunk. Second, the plates themselves give a “heads up” to law enforcement officials to watch those vehicles more closely because they know that someone in the family has a history with DWI. Third, they soften the hardship on innocent family members who still need to drive as a normal part of everyday life.

Hopefully, if you now see whiskey plates on the road it will be a helpful reminder that it is important for all of us to avoid drinking and driving.

 Galler is chambered in Washington County