Tennessee: Scarlet Letter DUI Punishment Costs Millions
A Tennessee law designed to shame those convicted of drunk driving is
not popular among some officials who now must manage the program.
The full cost of Tennessee’s new punishment for drunk driving
offenders is becoming more clear as local jurisdictions begin
implementing the “shame” program. The law which took effect two weeks ago
requires anyone convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol
to wear an orange vest with “I am a drunk driver” stenciled in four-inch
high letters while picking up litter on the roadside. This work must be
completed in a series of three eight-hour shifts within thirty days of
conviction. This penalty comes on top of a $1500 fine, a 24-hour stay in
jail and a one-year license suspension for first offenders.
In making this program mandatory, lawmakers did not consider whether
the public service requirement would actually serve the public. Local
agencies estimate its cost statewide will top $2 million.
“The only concerns I have about it are practical ones in the cost and
expense in carrying out the law,” Bedford County General Sessions Court
Judge Charles Rich told the Shelbyville Times-Gazette. “It’s a logistical
In Blount County, prison inmates already pick up roadside litter at
the rate of 100,000 pounds a year. Sheriff James Berrong says the
mandatory DUI pickup crew can’t be combined with the existing hardened
criminal crews because of security concerns and estimates the county’s
share of the DUI program’s cost at $230,805. Three new full-time
supervisors will be required to monitor the DUI crews 12 hours a day,
seven days a week at a cost of $191,000 in salary and benefits. A new van
with a “DUI Litter Pickup Crew” paint scheme plus fuel and maintenance
costs will add nearly $40,000 to the total.
“I’m not convinced this new program will provide very much benefit to
the community,” Berrong told the Maryville Daily Times. Blount county
handles 500 DUI cases a year, eighty percent of which are first