Minnesota Whiskey Plates for DUI: What You Need to Know

If you’ve been driving on Minnesota roadways for a while now, you may have noticed the plain-looking license plates with white backgrounds and blue fonts. These special registration plates are distinguished from others because their numbers start with a “W” – something that has earned them the nickname “whiskey” plates. They’re commonly displayed on vehicles whose owners were convicted of DWI.

What’s the purpose of whiskey plates?

Some drivers may find having whiskey plates embarrassing. However, law enforcement utilizes them to help their officers identify drivers who may be more susceptible to drinking and driving again.

In what instances may a driver be required to display a whiskey plate?

A court may order the defendant’s license plate impounded in the following instances, requiring the driver to register for a whiskey plate:

  • The second driving impaired violation within 10 years.
  • Having a BAC twice the legal limit.
  • Having a child younger than 16 in the vehicle while driving impaired (in instances where the child is at least 3 years younger than the driver).

How do you apply for a whiskey plate?

Registration is done through a state Motor Vehicle office, or the defendant may apply by mail. Registrants will need to at least have a valid driver’s license, or have been granted a limited license.

What is the financial cost for whiskey plates?

There is a cost of $50 per vehicle you register.

Do spouses of the person convicted of DWI also have to use whiskey plates?

If the defendant’s spouse drives an entirely separate vehicle – yet it’s co-owned by both persons – the spouse will still need to sport the whiskey plate.

If the defendant was operating someone else’s vehicle during the DWI arrest, will the owner of that vehicle still have to get whiskey plates?

There may be a period in which the vehicle is impounded, but once it has been returned to the owner, it should not require whiskey plates – as long as the owner is not at fault for the DWI. If you feel your vehicle has wrongly required a whiskey plate (as you weren’t involved in the incident), consider filing an administrative review with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (you can find the form at dps.mn.gov).

If a driver has a whiskey plate, can they operate another vehicle without one?

No. Whiskey plate laws in Minnesota require drivers to register all vehicles they plan to operate with whiskey plates. Additionally, drivers may not use a new car without first attaching a registered whiskey plate.

How long are drivers subject to displaying these plates?

Starting at the time of the incident, drivers who have received whiskey plates are required to display them for at least one year. However, certain instances may require drivers to display plates even longer.

Can law enforcement pull you over based on the simple fact you’re driving with a whiskey plate?

Law enforcement cannot pull someone over based alone on the fact that they’re operating a vehicle with a whiskey plate. According to Avvo, however, a whiskey plate can play a contributing factor that law enforcement can use to find “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” In fact, the state legislature had originally intended for law enforcement to be able to pull drivers over based on whiskey plates alone, but that statute was ruled unconstitutional by the Minnesota State Supreme Court back in 2003.

Need to learn more about whiskey plates? Contact attorney Joel Heiligman today.