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Ohio gets tough on drunk drivers, requires special license plates

Posted: 4:43 PM, Feb 14, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-15 19:54:26-05
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OHIO- Locals call them party plates, but they're not exactly something drivers are proud to show off.

Many people see them as a scarlet letter for those convicted of drunk driving in the state of Ohio.

"Everywhere you go people know you messed up bad."

Officer Greg Nichols is a member of the Parma Police Department's Traffic Enforcement Unit. He sees about a dozen party plates a day on his patrol shift.

Ohio gets tough on drunk driving

He admits he pays close attention to those plates.

"Seeing that does alert us to say, 'hey, they have been convicted of an OWI,' check them out and see what they are up too,"said officer Nichols.

In 2018, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles issued 3,538 party plates statewide.

Ohio and Minnesota are the only two states where offenders are required to display restricted plates for their first or second conviction.

Ohio offenders are also required to spend a minimum of three days in jail for their first OWI arrest.

When we drove around the buckeye state looking for the bright yellow and red plates, we quickly learned how some drivers tried to conceal their plates with thick film making it hard to detect," said London S. "It's just a red flag and they are super easy to spot out."

Bartender Davidione Pearl serves up drinks and words of wisdom in the Ohio city district of Cleveland.

Pearl was convicted of an OWI years ago. He wasn't required to install party plates, but knew that was an option.

"I learned my lesson not immediately then, but I learned my lesson after that," said Pearl.

Pearl says after his arrest he quit drinking.

"People ask all the time is it an issue tending bar," Pear said. "When you are done, you are done."

Pearl is just thankful he got a second shot after one bad decision.

"I no longer drink," he said. "I am just thankful that my life did not take a turn in the direction of greater chaos on myself or another family."

But for those who continue to drive drunk, the shame remains.

Some Wisconsin lawmakers want to make a first O-W-I a criminal offense. It's an up hill battle that surprises magistrate Dwayne Jones of Ohio. Where a first drunk driving offense is a misdemeanor.

"There is mandatory jail time on every offense," said Jones.

Magistrate Jones has not only sentenced drunk drivers to jail and restricted plates, he is also a professor of criminal justice at Akron University.

He believes the consequence of Ohio's strict drunk driving laws are working.

"When I started as a prosecutor a long time ago it was not uncommon to see breath test of .35, which is very high. That has becomes rare. So we have had that number go down, " Jones said.

Getting busted for a OWI in Ohio is expensive.

"A first offense OVI out-of-pocket usually cost $10,000," said Jones.

In Wisconsin, fines start at $150. But sticker shock isn't the only way Ohio punishes drunk drivers. Education is also a part of an offenders sentence.

Commquest runs a 72 hour alcohol intervention program as an option to the mandatory three day jail sentence imposed on all first drunk driving offenders.

"If you don't treat the root of the problem they are going to continue to drive continue to stay in those behaviors. Its the behaviors they know." said Ivan Rosa.

Commquest is one of a few state sanctioned programs.

Paul Lindenmuth shows us one of the dorms where participants stay for three days. Lindenmuth says the goal is to make sure those that come through their program don't reoffend and end up back in front of magistrate Jones

"Increase their education increase their awareness and reduce the amount of people that are going to have a further OVI. A second and third," he said.