Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Ask a Trooper: What does the 'W' on license plates mean?

Ask a Trooper: What does the 'W' on license plates mean?

  • 0
Sgt. Troy Christianson

Sgt. Troy H. Christianson of the Minnesota State Patrol

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 4 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.

Plates may be issued for a variety of DWI offenses, 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 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 planning for a safe ride home before you party, and making 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


Sign up for our Crime & Courts newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

No, traffic citation quotas are prohibited in Minnesota. State Statute 169.985 says, “A law enforcement agency may not order, mandate, require, or suggest to a peace officer a quota for the issuance of traffic citations, including administrative citations authorized under section 169.999, on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis.”

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News