Yellow Plates: A Curse or a Cure?

Driving under the influence is a colossal problem in America and, depressingly, it shows no sign of disappearing any time soon. There was a period of optimism in the 1990’s when the number of DUI-related incidents was steadily decreasing but, unfortunately, now there’s a sharp upward trend. There are many theories why this change may be occurring, from the lack of hard hitting campaigns to an epidemic of binge drinking, but the most important thing to consider is how this problem can be tackled.

Hard hitting statistics.

The statistics when it comes to driving under the influence are shocking. The Federal Bureau of Investigation states that 1.41 million drivers were arrested under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2010. This number only represents the tip of the iceberg. It has been estimated that the average drunk driver makes eighty journeys before he or she is finally arrested. Figures like these make it clear current law enforcement methods are not effective enough and, consequently, controversial new schemes are being developed in certain states.

Bringing back the red letter.

In January 2004 Ohio let its constituents know that it meant business when it came to driving under the influence. A law from 1967 was reinstated. Restricted plates were mandatory for anyone convicted of a drink driving offense and driving privileges were limited. The catch is this plate is bright yellow with red lettering. Both a beacon to law enforcement officers and a heavy token of shame for the driver. Supporters of this law say they feel safer on the road because they can identify and avoid potentially dangerous drivers. Others argue this law disproportionately punishes DUI offenders and that people who commit other offenses are not forced to wear an item of clothing or carry a sign identifying them as criminals.

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But, do they work?

Statistics about Ohio’s yellow plates are encouraging if, slightly hazy. After six months of the scheme the law was altered so that only drivers on their second offense would be sentenced to display a yellow plate. This means that statistically fewer people would be issued yellow plates so, a downward turn in convictions could be artificial. Nevertheless, in 2004 10,835 plates were issued and by 2011 there were just 4,103. Drivers who have been convicted of DUI themselves overwhelmingly report that wearing the plates was such an ordeal they have been “scared straight” and would not consider driving whilst drunk again.

Disproportionate downsides for the drivers?

Driving with a yellow plates undoubtedly invites people to stigmatize the drivers of the vehicle and their innocent passengers. People issued with yellow plates have reported losing their jobs because companies don’t want to be seen to have DUI offenders on their parking lots. Mothers who have been given a limited license to drive their children to school feel unable to go for fear that their kids will be judged and bullied. One of the biggest arguments against the yellow plates is that although they are a punishment to the drivers, they don’t actually make the public any safer. At the end of the day, there’s still a convicted drunk driver behind the wheel. They may drive more safely with the plates, but the sad truth of the matter is that many people who drive under the influence have serious alcohol problems and will reoffend.

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Jumping on the bandwagon

Despite the controversy behind Ohio’s yellow plates some other states have started, or are considering starting, to use the same approach. The yellow plate is a visible sign of drink driving offenses being tackled which, in turn, makes the public feel safer and have greater faith in law enforcement. This makes laws like this appealing for senators and governors. In Michigan DUI offenders are issued with a paper license plate and are only given their metal plates back at the end of their probationary period. Florida wants to push the humiliation factor even further and Senator Mike Fasano has called for bright pink plates containing DUI as the first initials. Is this really the best way to go when it comes to tackling drink driving though? How about the following from New Zealand?

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Care for criminals?

It’s easy to think of drunk drivers as irresponsible people driving home from parties, but this is not always the case. A large proportion of drink drivers are repeat offenders because they suffer from alcoholism. There are hundreds of thousands of functioning alcoholics in America who hold down jobs, look after their children, and drive whilst drinking on a daily basis. Statistically people like these are incredibly dangerous because they are driving whilst drunk so often that it’s only a matter of time before an accident occurs. Slapping a yellow plate on this segment of society will not make a blind bit of difference because they require help to get sober. There’s growing evidence that education and rehabilitation are more effective than methods relying purely on punishment and humiliation. Unfortunately these measures are expensive to enforce, so are often overlooked by the justice system.

Yellow plates a curse or a cure?

Ohio’s yellow plates are a contentious topic and there are many reasonable arguments for both sides of the coin. The plates single people out and humiliate them for something irresponsible that they have done and, if there’s one thing people hate more than being caught, it’s being publicly shamed and denounced. When over 200 children die every year through the negligence of drunk drivers, maybe this sort of punishment is necessary. Although the yellow plates air people’s dirty laundry in public, perhaps the perpetrators wouldn’t have anything to hang if they hadn’t made such poor choices.

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