P.G. lawmaker wants special plates for repeat drunk drivers

There are several tipoffs that a driver might be drunk: swerving, traveling the wrong way on a street, pulling out of a bar late at night.

And a Prince George's County lawmaker wants to add one more. He says the state should replace license plates of repeat drunken drivers with bright yellow tags that read "DUI."

"Displaying the special license plates will give people some understanding of who they are sharing the roadways with," Marvin E. Holmes Jr., a Democrat, said at a hearing on his bill Thursday.

The legislation would require the yellow plates for five years for anyone convicted of drunken driving three times. There are 2,029 drivers in the state who fit that description, he said.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly twice before and failed - but this year the measure has a new backer. Del. Herman L. Taylor Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat who pushed for drunken-driving plates in past years, was convicted a year ago of drunken driving. He is not a co-sponsor of Holmes' bill this year.

Other states have been adopting similar rules, said Joseph C. Green Jr., who called the idea "a growing trend" in his testimony on behalf of AAA Mid-Atlantic in support of the bill.

In Minnesota, "W" license plates - perhaps for "watch out" - are issued to people convicted of drunken driving, driving without insurance or a license or failing to pay a large number of parking tickets.

In those states and others with similar rules, drivers tend to give a wide berth to any vehicle bearing the plates. Holmes saw that firsthand on a recent trip to Ohio, when he was "amazed" by how much space other drivers on the highway gave one tagged vehicle.

Ohio judges have discretion to require the plates. Currently, 4,149 vehicles bear such plates, said Lindsey Bohrer, a spokeswoman for Ohio's Motor Vehicle Administration.

Lawmakers in Ohio also unsuccessfully pushed for pink license plates for child predators.

But there have been problems with drunken-driving tags. Legislation failed in Arkansas three years ago as lawmakers worried about the effect plates would have on innocent passengers in the vehicles. In Oregon, a rule requiring drunken drivers to have a stickers on their tags failed because drivers would peel them off, Holmes said.

Some members of the House panel expressed skepticism. Del. Michael D. Smigiel, a Southern Maryland Republican, compared the concept to a "scarlet letter" and worried that it would create a stigma for members of households who share a vehicle with a convicted drunken driver.

"Why is somebody with three drunk-driving convictions driving at all?" Smigiel asked.

Del. Tony McConkey, an Anne Arundel County Republican, wondered whether the plates would have any real effect in preventing drunken driving and asked why the state shouldn't just require an ignition lock that would test the driver's breath for alcohol.

Holmes responded: "This would be an additional tool in the toolbox."

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.

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