- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Massachusetts, beating a rapid retreat to the days of the Puritans, is considering license plates to identify drunk drivers who have been caught twice. The “DUI-2” plates are the idea of Republican State Senator JoAnn Sprague. Whether or not this will apply to the Kennedy clan hasn't been mentioned. We say alcoholism is a disease on the one hand and treat it as a crime on the other. Keep in mind that all kinds of convicted felons will be driving up and down the highway with no identifying markers on their plates.

We are all against drunks behind the wheel, but singling them out as criminal offenders and subjecting them to public ridicule for years after paying for their crime seems to be crossing the punishment line. The legislators are also considering locking the repeat offender up for one year instead of the 60-day sentence now imposed. This no doubt will raise questions in his mind as to why his friends on hard drugs are being treated in clinics for their addiction while he is being incarcerated for his.

If we are serious about some kind of visible sign identifying those that commit crimes, why don't we make use of the tattoo? After all, once a drunk leaves his car and walks into the bar, the poor bartender has no idea who he is dealing with. If the two-time loser had a number two tattooed on his forehead, the bartender could cut him off when he felt the customer was getting close to a number three. We could use the tattoo for a number of other crimes and social problems.

Should we consider an HIV positive tattoo or license plate? After all, this is a much more serious problem. Identifying those who can spread a communicable disease should be at least on the same level as stigmatizing a drunk driver. If we are going to do away with the concept of returning the felon to society with no strings attached, we may as well get all the mileage we can out of a license plate identifying past crimes. Do you suppose these plates might result in some license plate profiling by the police?

What kind of plates should we consider for the rapist, or wife beater? How about the guy that doesn't drink but has had five serious accidents? We cannot just single out the drunk for added attention when there are those with more serious criminal backgrounds utilizing our highways. There were quite a few federal congressmen and senators arrested for drunk driving last year, and I'm sure nationwide we would be astounded at the number of elected officials who drink and drive. Running for re-election with a drunk license plate would be a pretty tough thing to do.

Trampling on civil liberties is no way to solve the drunk-driving problem. We would be better served if our lawmakers devoted more energy to solving the driving while high on hard drugs problem, which seems to receive little attention but is much more prevalent. Detecting drunks is much easier for our law enforcement people, who are ill-equipped to deal with the cocaine addict or ecstasy user. Let's forget about branding drunks, and concentrate on the hidden drug problem.



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