Whiskey plates revisited

Minnesota issues special license plates to drunk drivers. “Whiskey plates” are issued to drivers involved in an alcohol-related violation. They all begin with “W.” At one time, police could stop someone with a “W” plate for any reason, until the Supreme Court struck down the law.

Robert McGrath, 49, had a DWI citation dismissed, because he was allegedly pulled over only because he had “whiskey plates,” according to the Park Rapids Enterprise.

McGrath is now charged with vehicular homicide in an accident outside Park Rapids late last month that killed a man. Two of the charges say he was drunk at the time.

He no longer had “whiskey plates” on his truck, the newspaper reported.

Question for discussion: Should police be able to pull a driver over with “whiskey plates,” just to check if the person is drunk?

  • Richie

    That just sounds like one more step closer to the Thought Police to me.

  • j

    Since you can no longer be pulled over just for having the plates, it seems to me that there really isn’t much of a reason to have them at all.

  • Minn Whaler

    A slippery slope, however if pedophiles have to register as sex offenders, I think the public deserves some protection from chronic DWI’s. Not sure what that should be, but feel the law is not nearly as stiff as it should be. I recently overheard a guy say, “you’d think I was a violent offender the way my P.O. is nosing around my house every other day… All I did was get caught driving drunk. done it tons of times, but wasn’t paying attention this time?” My thought was how lucky he was caught and can’t legally drive right now, as he seemed to have no insight to how lucky he was that no one has been hurt or killed as a result of his drinking and driving. Sigh..

  • Lily

    How about for all of us talking on cell phones? License plates that start with a “C” ? We’re as dangerous as the drunks, I’m told!

  • Stephanie Cordell

    YES! Whiskey plates are issued only after a person’s SECOND dui… They have lost all trust in responsibility at that point…

  • michele

    @Lily****Lovin your idea. Really!!!

    Driving is a privilege; not a right. Given that I really don’t know why cops can’t pull over folks with W plates. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t W plates issued to help drunks keep their lives in order (get to work) while their licenses are suspended for drunk driving? If so, shouldn’t the cops be able to pull them over just to check if they are in fact in transit between work and home??

    Getting caught driving while drunk shouldn’t have to completely mess up your life but a DWI is a serious crime with potentially lethal consequences. Why all the sympathy for these criminals? Maybe the better solution is just to not give them any driving privileges until the suspension period is up.

  • Al

    No there shouldn’t be whiskey plates. They don’t give those out until after the second offense. Second offense drunk drivers should give up their right to drive entirely. The only difference between drunken vehicular homicide and being caught drunk driving is dumb luck that you didn’t hit anyone. After 2 offenses you have shown you can’t be trusted with a vehicle.

  • //YES! Whiskey plates are issued only after a person’s SECOND dui…//

    Whiskey plates are fair. The crucial test is, is driving a right or a priviledge? Driving irresponsibly costs lives. Not driving or having your driving subjected to greater scrutiny is reasonable. I would like to know how anyone could justify a “right” without scrutiny to operate a restaurant after repeated health code violations or a crane after smashing into a few buildings? Is driving a car after repeated DUI’s so different?

  • bsimon

    Why do countries with more liberal drinking laws have fewer problems with drunken driving?

    “Whiskey plates are issued only after a person’s SECOND dui… They have lost all trust in responsibility at that point…”

    Perhaps then the solution is not to change their license plates, but to take away their privelege to drive. If they drive anyway, take away the car. Next time, lock ’em up.

  • michele


    You don’t mention any specific countries but if you are referring to Europe…

    I think you are confusing a liberal view about drink with permissiveness about drinking and driving. In fact all the European nations treat drinking and driving harshly. All countries have limits at .08 or lower (France is .05) and in many countries the punishment for the first offense is a heavy fine and/or imprisonment.

    My experiences in Europe is that it is easy (and fun) to go out drinking because friends always offer a lift home and even if your all crocked the public transit is so much better than here. But don’t go over there and expect to drink and drive with impunity—big mistake.

  • B

    My husband had 2 DUI’s and lost his license. Now my son and I are saddled with whiskey plates because his name is on the title of our vehicles. My son is at college and I am seperated from my husband. We can’t get rid of the whiskey plates unless we sell our cars and buy different ones which we can’t afford. So just because there is a whiskey plate on the car doesn’t mean that the driver had a DUI.

    I understand the reasoning behind the plates but I don’t think the plates serve much purpose since the law changed. With or without a license, with or without whiskey plates, repeat DUI offenders usually keep driving. Which is one of the reasons why I’m seperated from my husband.

  • maranda mcdougall

    “Perhaps then the solution is not to change their license plates, but to take away their privelege to drive. If they drive anyway, take away the car. Next time, lock ’em up.”

    I very much agree with this statement. Driving is a privelege. If you can’t stay sober in the drivers seat than you should not be allowed to drive….after the 4th time like Mr. McGrath he should be locked up. There is no reason for someone with this many DWIs to still be on the road

  • Mary

    Europe has less of a problem with drunk driving because their drinking age is lower than their driving age. People get cultured to responsible consumption before even learning how to drive.

    People who have multiple DUIs probably won’t learn their lesson until they hurt someone else – and even then, some still don’t.

  • Nicole McDougall-Udovich

    I think that we certainly have a broken system. McGrath killed my dad (Dale McDougall) and we’re worried about offending the drunks? The Supreme Court and those influencing lawmakers hasn’t taken a look at the OTHERS on the road, it’s not the drunks we want to please… it’s who else is on the road, walking down the street, or in the same car! We need to protect the good people in our country, others need help, and I know that… maybe get a cab? drink at home? ask for a ride from police? Anything they could do differently to stay off the road? Driving is NOT a right! The police and law are handcuffed by what they can and can’t pull people over for? That’s insane – get these people OFF the roads at ALL costs! Why is it that it cost a LIFE to get them off the road? Or, will it???? This is a classic case in where the judge(s) should have seen after the first 4 DUI charges that this guy is bound to kill someone someday… and he did.

    To sum up, I think that anyone with Wiskey plates should be pulled over periodically, reason or not, to make sure they are not drinking and driving.

    Thank you for taking the time time to read my thoughts.

  • Terry

    Having experienced both sides of the issue I have learned some valuable lessons and wrestled with my own notions concerning this difficult subject.

    The first and most important is that no one has the right to drive drunk. Driving is a privilege and not a right. Unless you slept throught your entire adolescent and young adult years, you are a person who deserved a DWI somewhere in your lifetime – you just didn’t get caught. Sadly it often takes a tragedy or your own brush with the law to remind you that life is a precious thing and no one is immune to the consequences of poor judgement.

    The person in question already had whiskey plates when he beat the wrap on a technicality. This means he had been under the influence while driving at least three times at that point. A life was lost and families were decimated. What a terrible waste. We were all just moving targets for a person out of control – a person who knew well he was out of control. How could this have happened in a time when alcohol awareness is at the forefront of law enforcement?

    I have a nagging suspicion that what began as a righteous and necessary movement to help save lives has become a source of, forgive me, MADD money. The legal system has been glutted with DWI’s since .08. It no longer matters so much how you’re driving, as whether you will reach that .08 somewhere within two hours of driving. Awards, bonuses, and public accolades are handed out in the name of DWI’s not so much for quality, but for quantity. Instead of concentrating on catching drunk drivers, law enforcement has been pressured to troll for them instead.

    A breathalizer does not measure alcohol but a component of alcohol, one that can be present for any number of reasons, from the air you’ve been breathing, your health/diet, the way the test was administered, and much more. That reading will become, however, the determining factor of guilt regardless. It only takes a person with a grudge to place a call and the police will be knocking at your door – hopefully you weren’t imbibing at home. Your weight, sex or fat ratio can determine to what speed or degree you are affected by alcohol. Still we have come to accept the bolstering up of long-reaching and personal debilitating legal consequences with inexact science and varying motives. With a DWI you are guilty unless proven innocent.

    We are not a perfect species and must sometimes learn from our mistakes. A responsible person could consider themselves lucky to receive an off-hand DWI to imbed, both mentally and financially, the fact that life isn’t always all about them. On the other hand those numerous DWI’s given to Robert McGrath didn’t save a life.

    If .08 is to be the rule then the public has a right to be afforded every chance to be law-abiding. Drinking is not illegal so let us in on the workings of the breathalizer and what it is actually reading. Require liquor establishments to have disposable or pay breathalizers on-site so the responsible, yet uninformed, person can guage themselves and take ownership in making good choices. Don’t place quantity above quality in determining law enforcment’s performance and worth. We need them on the roads and in our neighborhoods, not clustered around bars and restaurants looking for reasons when there aren’t any.

    I feel we need to take a step back and reassess what exactly it was we were trying to do in the first place and don’t let a good cause turn into an indiscriminate and angry vendetta. It’s about saving lives and educating people, not just going through the legal motions.

  • me

    the plates are also given out for a first time offend that blows over a .20

  • Once Bitten

    Hi all:

    Anyone who has commented on W plates being issued for people who have had TWO DWIs is incorrect. They can be issued after ONE DWI with aggravating circumstances (2 DWIs within 10 yrs, children in the car at the time of the stop, and a BAL reading of above .20).

    My BAL was .20 (due to a medical condition that I have now learned causes a longer alcohol recovery period–essentially, my reading will be x2 at any time of what a “normal” person’s is). I have never had any previous DWI charges. I now have W plates per MN law.

    But, I am ok with this. I am solely responsible for my mistake, and I will earn the priviledge to have regular plates on the anniversary date of my offense (for me, this is in 9 months). Not all persons charged with a DWI are repeat offenders, FYI. The DMV proceeds with plate impoundment based on the State’s initial BAL reading, no matter what your conviction (mine was lessened due to my previously “clean” record). So, not all people on the road with W plates are chronically irresponsible OR alcoholics, please bear this in mind.

    Have a great day all.

  • Jim

    Same here. Perfect driving record, no criminal history, and yet one DWI later I see the big ‘W’ shinin’ back at me every time I walk to my car.

    Watch out for me. I am dangerous.

  • Spouse of Offender

    I would never condone drunk driving. My husband who is a recovering alcoholic has 2 DUIs and now has “Whiskey Plates” on both of our cars as they are registered in joint name. I don’t believe that a “W” on our plates keeps the public any safer. I believe that his commitment to AA, his required outpatient therapy, his limited driving privileges for work, AA, therapy, and church, and his visits with his parole officer for the next 3 years do. I have been driving for over 20 years and have only one speeding ticket in my life and now I have to drive our small children in a car with “W” plates. I am considering taking money out of my retirement fund to buy a new car in my name only for my use only because of the nasty looks I have been getting.

  • gex

    Just saw a lady in a “W” plated car driving while applying makeup. I think it is more than fair to allow other drivers on the road be warned if they are in the proximity of a driver that does not take safety seriously. Seeing the “W” let me know to get away from her, and when I saw her applying makeup my fear was justified. Apparently she STILL does not take road safety seriously at all.

  • Ostracized

    Whiskey plates are about public humiliation and nothing more. They are a scarlet letter that a human being who has made a mistake must wear so that everyone is made aware of their sins.

    The list of consequences for a DUI are long and end up costing a small fortune. I do not believe it is moral to subject people who have made mistakes to public humiliation just to satisfy the revenge lust of groups like MADD.

  • p

    I know its behind the times to post this, but for those who say they are saddled with W plates due to an Ex who drank, you are allowed to sell your vehicle to a third party, and then buy it back and register it properly under your name. Contact your atty, he can do this in his office. cost is well under 100 bucks