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Published: Friday, 11/7/2003

Ohio lawmakers want to limit special plates for DUI offenders


COLUMBUS - First-time drunken-driving offenders who are given special driving privileges won t be required to use yellow-and-red license plates if a bill introduced in the Ohio General Assembly yesterday becomes law.

The legislation would correct a mistake in the massive 2002 bill to overhaul traffic codes that becomes law Jan. 1, said David Diroll, executive director of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission.

That provision requires motorists who have been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs to use yellow license plates with red numbers if a judge gives them limited driving privileges.

The Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission recommended that the special plates requirement apply only to those convicted of DUI two or more times, but drafters of the bill made it apply to everyone, Mr. Diroll said.

State Rep. Scott Oelslager (R., Canton) agreed to sponsor a bill to correct the error.

“These plates don t just penalize the driver; they often stigmatize everyone else who might be in that car - children or a spouse,” said Mr. Diroll. “Our thought was if you are going to enact a penalty beyond the driver, we should make it for repeat offenders so people can say, Don t get another one or we ll have to put on these plates. ”

Ohio has had so-called “DUI plates” since 1967, but judges have the discretion to choose whether they are used and most have not, state officials said. The new state law would require judges to order their use.

Ohio has 1,500 sets of the canary yellow-and-red plates on the roads and 17,661 motorists who have limited driving privileges, including drunken-driving suspensions and those who drove without insurance.

Doug Scoles, executive director of the Ohio chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the group won t fight Mr. Oelslager s bill to exempt first-time offenders from having to use the DUI plates.

“Would I rather have it for first offenders? Of course. But I was told this was intended for repeat offenders,” he said.

Mr. Scoles said MADD members are hopeful that the Senate will pass a bill that Mr. Oelslager sponsored that would give a mandatory prison term of one to five years to drunken drivers with five or more convictions for DUI. The House of Representatives approved the bill on Oct. 14.

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