Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Special License Plates for DUI Offenders?

SSB 6402 would require people convicted of DUIs to have a special flourescent yellow license plate on their cars for the year after they regain their driving privileges (after a suspension, say). Search Bill proposes "scarlet letter" for DUIs: bright-yellow license plates, Seattle Times, Feb. 12, 2008.

Supporters say that the special plate will help law enforcement keep an eye on these drivers in case they reoffend and will help the rest of us watch out for them on the road (again, in case they reoffend). They also say that shaming will be a deterrent to driving drunk in the first place. Asked why the spouse of an offender should be shamed when sharing the car, they reply that that will also be a deterrent: a driver wouldn't want to expose his or her family to that.

I just don't see it as a deterrent. People who have had too much to drink are not great analysts in the first place. But it's ridiculous to imagine that they'll think: "If I drive and I'm busted and I'm convicted then in a year or two my wife might be ashamed to drive our family car, so I'll call a cab." If the risks of being ticketed or getting in an accident -- totalling their cars and injuring themselves and others -- aren't enough of a deterrent, this future shaming won't be either.

Worse, the shaming could have the opposite of its intended effect. Psychological studies have found that shame actually makes people MORE likely to reoffend. Shame as a feeling overwhelms people with a sense that they are bad -- not that they did a bad thing that they can avoid in the future, but that they are bad. And that leads to more offending, not less. See my earlier post on the work of June Price Tangney and her colleagues.

1 comment:

Manny Jacobowitz said...

I think it's worth a shot. Although it is not likely to deter the first offense, it may deter future offenses by the same person after the scarlet-letter period. Someone who felt embarrassed about his car for a year may think a little harder before he has that third drink.

A shorter period might work a lot better, though, because by the end of a year the embarrassment will have pretty well faded.

If this bill is enacted, it will also be interesing to see what effect such a graphic presentation of the number of drunk drivers on the road has on the rest of us. I predict a more receptive environment for other anti-drunk driving bills.