OLR Research Report

February 6, 2004




By: Patricia O'Rourke, Research Fellow

You asked for a summary of a new Ohio law that requires people convicted of drunk driving to display special license plates. You also want to know why the law was passed and arguments for and against it.


The Ohio law, which took effect on January 1, 2004, requires, rather than allows, courts to order people convicted of operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) to display “restricted plates.” The requirement applies to anyone to whom the courts grant limited driving privileges during a period of license suspension. A violator subject to a restricted license order has his regular plates confiscated and must display the restricted plates until his driving privileges are restored. The plates, which have a yellow background and red numbers and carry a serial number that police can readily identify, are different from regular Ohio plates, which are blue and white.

Anyone subject to a restricted license plate order who fails to display the license or knowingly disguises or obscures it is guilty of a minor misdemeanor, which carries a maximum $100 penalty.

The legislature mandated the special plates because judges rarely exercised their discretion under prior law to order violators to use them. The goal of the law is to create stronger disincentives for drunk driving and lower the number of OVI-related deaths. Those who support the legislation view it as a deterrent for drunk driving through social pressure. Opponents say it may unfairly stigmatize first-time offenders and an offender's family members occupying a vehicle with restricted plates. Some also oppose the removal of judicial discretion, which allowed judges to apply the law on a case-by-case basis. According to published reports, a state Senate committee is expected to take action on a bill to restore judicial discretion in cases involving first-time offenders.

(A copy of the law is attached.)


Judges Discretion to Issue Special Plates

Under existing Ohio law, the court must, (in addition to imposing jail time or ordering participation in a driver intervention program) suspend the license of anyone convicted of an OVI violation. It may also grant the violator limited driving privileges after a 15-day probationary period. Prior to January 1, 2004, the court could also require the violator to display the distinctively colored license plates as a condition getting limited driving privileges (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 45203.231). But courts rarely issued such an order, and when they did, it was usually in cases involving multiple OVI convictions.

Special Plate Mandate

The new law removes the court's discretion and requires judges to order violators to display the restricted plates in order to get limited driving privileges (Ohio Code Rev. Ann. 4510.14). Violators driving vehicles registered out of state, must display a special windshield decal stating that the vehicle is subject to limited driving privileges in Ohio. A violator does not have to display the restricted license while driving his employer's vehicle for business purposes if the employer is notified of his restricted driver status and the violator keeps the notification on his person while driving the vehicle.


The law's supporters say that the restrictive plates will deter drunk driving through public embarrassment. They argue that the possible embarrassment of the family furthers the preventive goal of the law and is, therefore, a small price to pay for the lives that may be saved by the law.

Supporters of the law also believe the restrictive plates will promote better driving by OVI offenders because they will be under closer scrutiny by other motorists and law enforcement officers. And other motorists will be more vigilant around the restricted vehicles.


Opponents of the law claim that it unfairly treats first-time and repeat OVI offenders equally, as well as drivers with a 0.08 blood-alcohol limit (approximately two drinks for the average woman) and those with twice the legal limit, 0.15, the level at which 60% of fatal crashes occur (Ohio News, 1/9/04). The Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission recommends that the mandated yellow and red plates apply only to those convicted of multiple OVI offenses (, 12/31/03).

Another criticism of the law is that the restrictive plates unfairly stigmatize all of a vehicle's occupants, not just the violator. Opponents have voiced concern that police will profile vehicles with restricted plates, using them as an excuse to stop these drivers.