Panel Kills DUI License Plate Bill


A bill requiring repeat drunk drivers to display a special scarlet “DUI” license plate on their vehicles was killed Tuesday in the Senate Transportation Committee.

The bill received only one favorable vote and five no votes. It needed at least five votes for approval.

The measure (SB 108) by Sen. Raymond Haynes (R-Riverside) would have required twice-convicted drunk drivers to equip their vehicles with the bright crimson license plate marked “DUI,” for “driving under the influence,” for two years.


The restriction--reminiscent of the scarlet A for adultery worn by Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter”--would have applied to any vehicle owned, operated or acquired by a motorist convicted of drunk driving two or more times.

But Haynes insisted that his purpose was not to humiliate the drunk driver. He said the bright red license would alert other motorists, police officers and pedestrians that a convicted drunk was on the road.

“The vehicle in the hands of a drunk driver is a lethal weapon. The way to give people a fighting chance is to identify that lethal weapon . . . and everybody can take the steps to protect themselves,” Haynes told the committee.

The California Highway Patrol, which neither supported nor opposed the bill, provided statistics showing that drunk driving arrests, injuries and deaths have been declining since 1983.

But in 1995, the most recent year for which figures are available, nearly one in three people arrested for drunk driving was a repeat offender, the CHP said.

The bill drew heavy criticism from committee Chairman Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco), who called it legally flawed, and, unexpectedly, from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.


Kopp said he was concerned about possibly stigmatizing innocent members of a drunk driver’s family who would drive a vehicle with the bright red license plates.

Bill Cather, the DMV’s assistant director for legislation, who usually supports anti-drunk driving bills, said the DMV had “‘overwhelming operational and administrative concerns” with the bill. Committee staff members had reported that start-up costs alone at the DMV would run $466,000.

Witnesses supporting the bill called on the committee to demonstrate as much compassion for victims of drunk drivers and their families as for the families of other violators.