The Drunk Plate: DUI Shaming in Ohio
When we bought Henry-the-Jeep at a dealership in Ohio, they joked, before sending us on our way, that we would have to drive around with “drunk plates” for awhile.”What” I asked, “are ‘drunk plates’?”
“Don’t you have those in Pennsylvania?” She seemed surprised, but proceeded to tell us that an orange license plate in Ohio means that the driver inside was a drunk driver, convicted of Driving Under the Influence. She said it gives cops the ability to pull that driver over at any time, for no reason.
I wonder if I have a drunk driving story in me to relate along with a photo of this plate?
Here’s where we get hypothetical. You might remember in my post about uploading a photo of my money shot in Starbucks, that when truth gets scary, or hairy, or if you’re uncertain the consequences of sucha revelation, just put your story as a hypothetical, let it fly and get on with it. This allows you to incorporate hyperbole and avoid those pesky little biographical readers who want “just the facts, ma’am.”
I can’t imagine sucha law as one that gives you the vehicular equivalent of a “Scarlet A” on your chest. (Yes, I prefer the words “such” and “a” as one word. You’ll survive it.)
On the one hand, I certainly don’t want a bunch of drunks on the road. (When you’re the product of generational alcoholism and fight that demon yourself, you can say the word “drunk” for alcoholic, in all its politically incorrect glory, and get away with it. And even if you don’t get away with it, there are few who are going to throw a pity party for drunk drivers being called drunks. Drunkity drunk drunk drunk. A drinky drink, a drinky poo. A drunkity drink drunk. Don’t drink and drive you stupid, fluppin drunk-ass DRUNK!) (Thank you Nick Flynn for some of my lexicon.)
So on to this hypothetical… As I drove back to Pennsylvania, a (now) responsible, non drinking-and-driving adult, I thought about my own near-miss as an underage undergrad. I was stupid. I had been drinking. I was driving. I don’t know if I was technically intoxicated or not. Yes. Yes I do.I was.
And I got lucky.
This is the first time I’ve written about it, as best my hypoethetical and hyperbolic memory can recount, and the first time I think I’ve told anyone other than my husband. Drunk driving stories are like that. Of the people I know, four out of five (or it could be three out of five, but certainly, positively and definitely MORE THAN HALF OF THE PEOPLE I KNOW PERSONALLY) have told their own stories of driving after drinking, usually when they were “young and stupid” and always, always they tell me they “got lucky.”
I’m personally glad they have all the drinking and driving checkpoints, the MADD campaign and all the information in schools. I hope it has truly cut back on the number of people who drink and drive.
For my own uphill battles against addiction and, perhaps more importantly, my obnoxious personality, I try not to drink. And when I do, it’s when Kurt will be driving.
So what about that (hypothetical) story? I had been drinking, underage, near Pittsburgh in the early 90s. My friend and I had come to town from IUP for the weekend to party. One of us was designated driver. Sometime during the night we either forgot who it was or one of us was roofied.
At one point, maybe the first night or second night, SHE was driving and I was hanging out the window puking out the remnants of every douchebag guy in my life to that point.
At one point, maybe the first night or the second night, I was driving and we were lost, somewhere in downtown Pittsburgh, or thereabouts, or on the parkway, or thereabouts, or in a section of town we shouldn’t have been in. I may or may not have made a left turn at 3am from the far right lane. I was immediately pulled over by a cop who came from I don’t know where.
My friend had a tendency toward anger when she drank, and the moment we were pulled over the started spitting obscenities at the cop, who had not yet reached our car. I managed to quiet her down and smiled nervously at the police officer, a kindly-faced black woman. I was sure this was it for me, but somehow, I have no IDEA how, she believed that I was fully sober and that my friend was drunk and belligerent.She gave me directions back to our motel and sent us on our way.
I may or may not have been too intoxicated to be behind the wheel, and may or may not have been sober enough to remember the details of being pulled over and driving home imagining the consequences had that situation been any different. Had, for example, any cars been coming when I turned left across several (then) empty lanes of traffic. Had, for example, that cop acted differently. Had, for example, any number of things occurred.
I condemn drunk drivers. You bet your ass I do. Hypocritical? Absolutely. But we each have a responsibility not to drink and drive.
But I imagine if that situation had resulted in my having a DUI. If there had been sucha thing as a “drunk plate” afterward, a liberty for police officers forever after to pull me over at will. I imagine a police officer with his own memories of a drunken father or grandparent, with his own baggage or resentment toward alcohol that might pre-dispose him to see that drunk plate and never allow for redemption, for change, for a one-time idiotic youth to become something other than that label.
I don’t know the full details of this “drunk plate” law in Ohio. Is it only for repeat offenders? Is it for life? What broad applications are police officers allowed to have when pulling over someone with that plate? Are all their civil liberties removed? Should they be?
I would hope there is room for drunk drivers to not have that plate all their lives. When people are branded or labeled, they tend to (a) live down to the expectations of that label; and (b) others tend to treat them only as that label, with no room for change.
But as a sober person who doesn’t want to be on the road with a drunk at any time of the day or night, there is some relief in knowing that a cop could pull over a repeat offender and make sure they’re sober before allowing them on their way.
As usual, today’s post has no answers, only questions and maybe a little moral relativism. The correct number, by the way, of the people I know who have driven after drinking what they personally considered at least a “buzzed” amount, was 3 out of 5. Three out of five people I know have driven after drinking enough to be at least buzzed. And if you’re thinking “you know all the wrong people” then you’re living in a bubble of either denial or ignorance, my friend, because I bet you know three out of five as well. They just won’t tell you because you either come across as too judgmental or non-confessional to share sucha confidence.
PLEASE BE CAREFUL DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, FRIENDS. Take a designated driver with you, or just don’t drink at the party. It’s not worth risking a “drunk plate” or a Scarlet A, but more importantly, it’s not worth risking the lives of you or anyone else on the road.
As almost everyone (see how easy hyperbole is?) will tell you who has driven while under the influence, it wasn’t their intentions that were the problem, but the simple course of events of an evening. Most situations begin with good intent, but the thing about alcohol is that it impairs our ability for logic and reason, from the first drink.
The ONLY true way to prevent drinking and driving is to PLAN. I bet you thought I was going to say “to not drink” didn’t you? Well any fool can hope, wish and say they aren’t going to drink, but if you don’t PLAN for best and worst case scenarios, you can easily get into trouble.
Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. This quote is often attributed to Churchill, or to Franklin, but it’s actually a much older proverb, rising separately in different languages, different cultures, reiterated by various leaders. By the way,I have never been so disappointed as to see that my hardcover Bartlett’s and the online Bartlett’s did not produce a result for this search. It’s sucha well known quote. Bartlett’s (A) YOU suck every hindquarter ever created; (B) No, that’s it. Just (A).
My point is this: make a best and worst plan for the holiday parties. If you’re not planning to drink, put TWO things in your wallet before you go out: (a) the number of a non-drinking friend you could call or the number of a taxi service; (b) Cash for a taxi that you don’t allow to be used for anything else.
If you ARE planning to drink, make sure you do the above, but also give your keys to a non-drinking friend or the bartender who has the strength and authority to cut you off. Better still, spring for a taxi to and from the party, and tell everyone with you your intentions, so if you get too drunk to remember, they’ll know where your taxi twenty is, and send you home safely.
I’m curious if anyone else is brave enough to share a hypothetical or stories of friends you know.
Happy Saturday, everyone!
P.S. Where the heck are you? There are free books waiting for you, autographed by the author (click here) and you’re still over here reading this post? Sheesh. I can’t even GIVE stuff away! 😉