DUI license plate idea veers in wrong directionA Times Editorial
Published November 20, 2005
It's hard to imagine that state Sen. Mike Fasano could outdo himself in the arena of head-scratching legislation.
After all, this is the fellow who sponsored bills that:
Dictate the size of American flags in every public school classroom, even though most classrooms already had a flag of some size, while not providing funds for districts to buy them;
Called for a Constitutional amendment requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day, even though that's already the law, and;
Forbid teachers from spending their union dues for political purposes.
But the banty rooster-like Republican from New Port Richey, whose senate district reaches from northern Pinellas to Citrus County, continues to offer bills that are uniquely unnecessary.
Fasano's latest headline-grabbing measure would require anyone who has a restricted license because of a drunken driving conviction to display on their vehicles a bright pink license plate with the letters "DUI" as the prefix.
Never mind that this would unfairly castigate spouses and children who might need to drive the same vehicle. Fasano is willing to sacrifice them for a law he thinks will be both deterrent and punishment.
Fasano's initiative has landed him on the front pages and on national television. While he is in the media spotlight, he might wish to consider legislation that would be just as vital to the state's interest, such as mandating that everyone eat their vegetables and brush their teeth after every meal, or requiring that apple pie be a dessert option on every restaurant menu.
Yes, these ideas are absurd. But so, too, is the notion that mandating a colorful license plate will have any significant impact on the very serious issue of drunken driving.
As well-meaning as it might be to paint an offender - and potential re-offender - this way so as to warn law-abiding citizens of a possible danger, there are several practical problems with Fasano's idea.
First, there is no way to know whether the person with the pink plate is, at that very moment, driving drunk. He or she committed this offense at one time, possibly years ago, and thus earned the pink plate. But does it follow that they will always be a danger?
Plus, the person driving next to you or behind you might be blind drunk - and a real danger - but they don't have a pink plate because they have never been caught. While your attention is focused on the car in front of you with the pink plate, the drunken driver behind you could be your biggest threat.
And why stop at advertising the sins of the drunken driver? Why not special plates for those who have committed vehicular homicide while sober? Or who have repeated convictions for speeding or reckless driving?
Of course, we could then extend this branding to offenders of every stripe. The same logic behind the pink plates would apply to anyone with a criminal record, and thus they should have to bear their own version of the scarlet letter.
If the aim of Fasano's measure, however, is to somehow prevent people from driving drunk then there may be other inane ways to get there. The technology already exists that requires people under certain conditions to pass an in-car breath test before they can start the ignition. That might pique Fasano's imagination.
Imagine an instrument that could measure the alcohol-content of the air in a vehicle that a driver has exhaled? If the measure tops the legal limit, a light would flash on the exterior of the vehicle, alerting other drivers and law enforcement.
Does this sound too Flash Gordon-esque? Too absurd?
It makes about as much sense, and certainly is as practical a solution, as color-coding drivers for their past sins.