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Whiskey plates in Minnesota

Restricted use plates, often referred to as “whiskey plates,” are a not-so-uncommon sight to see on Minnesota highways and streets. The plates start with the letter “W” to indicate the alcohol-related offense. As of June 2012, there were over 16,000 whiskey plates in circulation in the state of Minnesota.

How do you get whiskey license plates?

In Minnesota, drivers with a valid driver’s license who have been convicted of a DWI and whose license plates have been impounded will be required to place special registration plates on any cars registered under their name.

Generally, these are all grounds for whiskey plates:

  • Two DWIs in a matter of ten years

  • Multiple DWIs over any length of time

  • A DWI when the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was over 0.16

  • A DWI when a child under 16 was in the vehicle

  • Refusing a field sobriety test 

A court may order whiskey plates in other cases as well, according to their discretion.

Where do I get whiskey plates?

Drivers register for whiskey plates at their local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) location.

What are the consequences of having whiskey plates?

The most obvious consequence of having whiskey plates is that the plates make everyone aware of the DWI infractions the driver has incurred. The main purpose of the plates is to raise law enforcement awareness of drivers with a history of infractions.

Although whiskey plates are intended to help officers spot drivers who have had multiple DWI convictions, in 2003 the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for a law enforcement officer to stop a driver solely on this basis. However, officers can still pull drivers over as long as they have a basis for it, other than the driver’s license plates.

Another consequence is that anyone else who drives the offender’s car will be subject to the plates. Even if the car is given to another family member or changes ownership, as long as it is registered under the name of the person who got the DWI, it will have to bear the whiskey plates until the allotted time is up.

How long will you have whiskey plates?

The law requires whiskey plates on a vehicle for a minimum of one year past the date of the offense or until the driver’s license is valid again.

What are all the states with whiskey plates?

Although a number of states have tried to pass legislation to require restricted use plates, currently Minnesota and Ohio are the only two states requiring them of offenders. In Ohio, restricted use plates are required of all DUI offenders. Oregon and Washington had programs requiring special license plates, but these programs stopped in 1994 and 1995.

Can you challenge license plate impoundment?

If you’ve been ordered by a judge to put whiskey plates on your car, it is possible to challenge the requirement within a specific time frame after the impoundment has been ordered. Our office works with people who are facing DUI or DWI charges and license plate impoundment. Depending on the case, we are often successful at working with judges to lift these requirements.

To get started talking with an experienced DWI lawyer, contact our office to set up a free initial consultation.