Ask a Trooper: ‘Whiskey’ plates ID people with DWI history

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Question: Could you explain the significance of the W on license plates?

Answer: I believe Minnesota started using “whiskey” or “special registration” plates back in the mid- to late 1990s. They are commonly called “whiskey” plates because they start with the letter “W” which is followed by a second letter and four numerals. The purpose of the plates is to alert law enforcement and the public that either the person driving the vehicle or someone that had driven the vehicle was guilty of an “enhanced” DWI violation.

Sgt. Troy Christianson Ask a Trooper Minnesota State Patrol

Sgt. Troy Christianson
Ask a Trooper
Minnesota State Patrol

Plates may be issued for a variety of DWI offenses, including:

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•A second DWI violation within 10 years.

•A DWI violation while having an alcohol concentration of twice the legal limit (.16 or more).

•A DWI violation while having a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle if the child is more than 36 months younger than the offender.

•A violation by a person whose driver’s license or driving privileges have been canceled under Minnesota Statute section 171.04, Canceled Inimical to Public Safety (Multiple DWI violations).

Special registration plates will be on the car at least one year from the date of incident. It is important to note that in some cases, special registration plates must be displayed for longer than one year due to multiple DWI offenses or other driving without license violations.

A person found guilty of a gross misdemeanor DWI offense requiring this special registration may also be liable for up to a $3,000 fine and/or one year in jail.

In 2013, 25,719 motorists were arrested for DWI in Minnesota and one out of seven drivers had a DWI violation on their record. Everyone has a role in keeping our roads safe — and that means never getting behind the wheel impaired, always plan for a safe ride home before you party, and make sure your friends don’t risk drinking and driving.

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson – Minnesota State Patrol at 2900 48th Street NW, Rochester MN 55901-5848. (Or reach him at, Twitter: MSPPIO_SOUTH