Scarlet Sticker

"I think I hit a very empathetic chord with the people of Arizona."

Last month, the Arizona Legislature killed a bill that would have required convicted drunken drivers to attach a fluorescent sticker to their auto license plates. Republican Senator Slade Mead, who introduced the bill, isn't discouraged -- he plans to reintroduce the bill, because he swears that only shame will keep tipsy drivers from taking the wheel.

New Times: You wanted to enact a law causing drivers with past DUIs to attach fluorescent green tags to their license plates. Are you out of your mind?

Slade Mead: I got a lot of responses, but I didn't get asked if I was nuts. The response from the public was pretty favorable, because a lot of people are very frustrated that nothing seems to be effective in the war against DUI, and DUI is one of those crimes that affect everybody. We could be victims tomorrow, even though we're not the ones going drinking. I think I hit a very empathetic chord with the people of Arizona.

You Slade me: Senator Mead dishes drunk drivers.
Emily Piraino
You Slade me: Senator Mead dishes drunk drivers.

NT: Yet the bill died.

Mead: Frankly, a couple of things happened with that bill. It happened very quickly, and very late. It wasn't my bill, I was just sitting listening to testimony about it, which talked about putting people's names in the newspaper, and so I asked, "If the Tribune is currently printing these names for free, and you want to set money aside to pay other newspapers to print these names, what makes you think the Tribune is going to continue to do it for free?"

NT: You are smart.

Mead: If I were the Tribune, I wouldn't do it. Needless to say, those questions started people talking about what other kinds of "scarlet letter" types of DUI things we could try. I was having lunch with someone from the Republic the next day, and he said, "Well, why don't you do what Ohio does? They have a special license plate." And so that was the genesis for bringing this bill forward.

NT: I was surprised to read how many deaths are attributed to drunk drivers.

Mead: It's astronomical. I can't back it up statistically, but I believe it's our number one cause of deaths, after heart attacks.

NT: I think cancer's in there somewhere.

Mead: Okay. But it's mind-boggling. And almost everyone has been affected, whether it's been a relative or a friend who's been maimed or killed by DUI. What I was trying to do with the amendment, and obviously I failed, was set up a program that was inexpensive, and it would have been dirt cheap, because all you need to do is buy two magnets, if you're the perpetrator, one for the front plate and one for the back plate. The state doesn't have to go and print up a set of new plates.

NT: But if I was the guy with the DUI penalty, and I had the fridge magnets for my license plates, I wouldn't put them on.

Mead: Well, you would when you got pulled over and you don't have them on your plate. I mean, you're going to have to explain to the officer why you don't have them on. There's a huge penalty for not putting them on.

NT: But you have to get pulled over first.

Mead: Absolutely, but think about it: Your wife and you go out for dinner, but if you drive, you have to put on the DUI plates. If your wife is driving, you don't have to put on the plates. Who's gonna drive? Your wife.

NT: Not my wife. So, what happened? Were you laughed out of the Senate?

Mead: The comment from my fellow senators during debate was, "Well, this is unfair to the spouse, because she would have to drive with the plates on." I said, "No, they're magnets." Apparently people saw something in the amendment that wasn't there. So there was a disconnect there, and what people were voting on was different than what they thought they were voting on. Senator Martin raised the issue that some cars don't have front license plates.

NT: This is all so intricate!

Mead: Then they said, "If you're the wife of someone with DUI, you have to drive around with a blank black [license plate] on the front of your car."

NT: Not to mention being married to a drunk guy!

Mead: Well, that's true. But I said, "Go get a Diamondbacks bumper plate, and put that on the front of the car."

NT: I don't think drunks are going to be that cooperative, but I see your point. So what about existing DUI laws? Are they effective?

Mead: No. I'd like to see the ignition device that randomly tests you while you're out there driving. You blow into this device, and if you're drunk, the car won't start. It beeps, and you've got like 30 seconds to pull over and get tested again. So you can't drive drunk. It'll test you while you're driving.

NT: It's like that TV show with David Hasselhoff and the talking car! What about just raising DUI fines?

Mead: I don't think that will have much of an effect, because I don't think people know what the fines are now. It would raise more revenue for the state, but it doesn't solve the problem of drunk driving.

NT: If you really want to embarrass drunk drivers, you could make them drive really ugly cars. I mean, I'm not a drunk, but I drive a teal green Geo Storm, and believe me, the humiliation of being seen in that car keeps me off the road half the time.

Mead: One problem with that way of thinking is there's a cost involved. My thing would cost about five dollars to print up a magnetic plate, but you're talking about going out and buying or leasing or renting a Geo Storm or whatever it was you just said. I don't think that would fly.

NT: You could chop off their legs. It's hard to drive without legs.

Mead: Well, you can't do that, but you can do the ignition switch thing, that's a step in the right direction, and we really should be pushing that. That's a technological item that's out there, that works. I think it's like 15 bucks a month to rent the unit.

NT: So what's the real purpose of these stickers? I mean, if you're driving along and see a DUI license plate, should you pull up alongside and heckle the driver?

Mead: Well, that's up to you. If it were I, I would give that car a large cushion.

NT: You'd hand them a pillow?

Mead: A space. It wouldn't be my intent to pull up and taunt that person. Some people may want to do that, but it would be my inclination to stay far away from them.

NT: What's next? We could tattoo people who have STDs. Or make people who are really bad cooks shave their heads.

Mead: You mean, where do you draw the line? I've heard that argument, although I can't think of another crime that's like DUI, one so randomly selfish that touches so many people. I hear you when you say I'm going down a slippery slope, but I don't buy that, because tell me what other crime is as bad. Plagiarism? Who cares? It doesn't hurt you or me. Adultery? If you do that, it's not going to hurt my daughter. Sorry. I've heard that argument, and I don't buy it.

E-mail robrt.pela@newtimes.com

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