Ask a Trooper

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

A:  I believe Minnesota started using “whiskey” or “special registration” plates back in the mid- to late 1990s.  I think the first set was a “WX” followed by four numbers that has since cycled through many times over using a “W” followed by another letter, then four more numbers.   In 2013, 25,719 motorists were arrested for DWI in Minnesota and one out of seven drivers had a DWI violation on their record.  My understanding is this 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.

How does a person “earn” a set of these? A few ways from a DWI offense, including:

• 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 issued must be displayed for at least one year from the date of incident. In some cases, special registration plates must be displayed for much longer than one year (multiple DWI offenses and other driving without license violations).

 A person that is guilty of a DWI offense that would require needing special registration would be a gross misdemeanor and punishable of up to a $3,000 fine and/or one year in jail.

Send any questions concerning traffic related laws in Minnesota to:  Sgt. Neil Dickenson – Minnesota State Patrol at 1131 Mesaba Ave., Duluth, MN 55811 or

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