Should Drunken Drivers Have Special Licenses?

A proposed law in Oklahoma appears to be among the first in the nation that would require convicted drunken drivers to have a special mark placed on their driver's licenses.

Lawmakers hope the designation, which would remain on licenses for up to four years, will induce bartenders and others to refuse to sell as much alcohol to those with previous drunken driving convictions.

But the proposal has been criticized by civil liberties advocates and questioned by activists.

"I think it is yet another example of an attempt by the legislature to put a scarlet letter on some of its citizens," said C.S. Thornton, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. "It seems like they are trying to stigmatize someone just to heap on punishment. But the effect of that particular punishment is questionable. What is that really going to do to reduce drinking and driving?"

States have tried a variety of ways to combat drunken driving, including suspending licenses and using car ignition locks that require alcohol breath tests. Three states require some drunken drivers to use special license plates. Virginia and New York have proposed to do same, but other states have a tried and abandoned similar license plate measures.

No states currently require convicted drunken drivers to have a notation on their licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In a statement, Mothers Against Drunk Driving president Glynn Birch said, "MADD focuses on research-based, scientific efforts that will result in reduced repeat offenses." MADD supports such measures as ignition locks and license revocation as the best ways to reduce drunken driving.

In 2006, about 17,000 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents, accounting for more than 40 percent of total traffic deaths, according to the national Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The ACLU's Thornton pointed out that most bars ask for identification only from people who look as if they may be below the legal drinking age. "I'm not sure I quite understand what the point is," he said. "It seems to be just feel-good legislation."

But state Rep. Scott Inman said the measure would serve as a deterrent to potential drunken drivers.

"These people have no concern for anyone but themselves when they drive while intoxicated, and they are putting our families in danger," said Inman, who proposed the Oklahoma law. "Frankly, Oklahomans are getting fed up with it. This is just one more chink in the armor to show drunken drivers they are not invincible, and they are going to be held accountable."

Inman suggested that bars and restaurants might not serve people who have a drunken driver sticker on their licenses.

"This is not going to be the end all, be all solution to the problem," he said. "But it should go a long way to deter folks."

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