Legislation working its way through the General Assembly would require special license plates on cars owned by drivers convicted of alcohol-related infractions and other hazardous traffic violations.
The legislation, pushed by Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, is included in three separate bills, including Senate Bills 580 and 52 and House Bill 744. Senate Bill 52 is the furthest along, having been passed by both the Senate and the House. It was scheduled for a third vote in the House this week.
The provisions would affect any person whose driver’s license has been suspended, revoked or disqualified for 60 days or more. It would require them to trade in their existing license plates for specially designed restricted plates on any vehicle for which they are registered as co-owners or owners. The restricted plates would be required for the duration of their license suspension or revocation.
Stouffer spokeswoman Heidi Kolkmeyer said the House can accept the bill as is or send it to a House-Senate conference committee for final adjustments.
Missouri is among several states looking for ways to keep suspended and revoked drivers off the roads.
“It is a dangerous problem,” said Capt. J. Bret Johnson, chief of staff for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “Drivers who are suspended or revoked are twice as likely to be involved in an accident involving another motorist.”
Persistent offenses of driving while intoxicated increased 10.6 percent in Missouri from 2004 to 2005, according to the highway patrol’s Statistical Analysis Center. The data also showed a 2.4 percent decrease in the number of DWI infractions by people with no prior offenses.
Most license suspensions in Missouri stem from alcohol-related offenses, Kolkmeyer said, adding and that she and others in Stouffer’s office calculated that a driver would have to get about five non-alcohol-related tickets within 12 months before his or her license would be suspended. Other causes for suspension include careless and reckless driving, hit-and-run offenses and driving without liability insurance.
Troopers remove about 50,000 drivers from the roadways each year who are illegally operating a vehicle with a suspended, revoked or invalid driver’s license, Johnson said.
Critics of the bill say it would be unfair because it would require those who co-own vehicles with suspended or revoked drivers to share the restricted plates.
The plates wouldn’t be designed to stand out to the general public or as “targets” for law enforcement. But law enforcement officers would have probable cause to stop any vehicle with restricted plates to check whether the driver has a valid license or limited driving privileges.
“If a legal operator of a vehicle displaying restricted plates is stopped, and no other violations are detected, the stop would normally be very brief,” he said.
Kolkmeyer said the restricted plates would be intended to help troopers without standing out to the public.
“It’s the senator’s hope that this won’t be like a scarlet letter,” she said.
A sticker on the plate or a letter in a certain location on the plate are among the possibilities, Kolkmeyer said. The distinction generally would be something that only the patrol would know about.
“The design would most likely be similar to our current plate with a particular marking or code in the makeup of the configuration,” Johnson said.
Kolkmeyer said other states, including Ohio and Washington, are trying or have tried restricted license plate programs. She said Arkansas is also considering a similar program.