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Implementation of Washington state’s zero tolerance law: patterns of arrests, dispositions, and recidivism

McCartt, Anne T.; Blackman, Kenneth; Voas, Robert B.
Traffic Injury Prevention (TIP)
October 2007

Objectives: Zero tolerance (ZT) laws have been effective in reducing alcohol-related crashes among underage drivers. However, enforcement in some states has not been rigorous, and ZT offenses may not be viewed as serious offenses. On July 1, 1994, the state of Washington implemented a ZT law that allowed police to request a test for alcohol on suspicion of either a ZT or driving-under-the-influence (DUI) offense. The present study examined effects of the ZT law on arrests and case dispositions among underage offenders as a function of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and post-law patterns of recidivism.
Methods: Times-series analyses examined the effects of the ZT law on trends in arrests of underage drivers between 1991 and 1999. Based on arrest records matched with driver's license records, the effects of the law on dispositions of alcohol-related offenses among underage drivers were examined, and rates of recidivism among underage offenders were examined for the period following the ZT law.
Results: There was a substantial increase in arrests of underage drivers beginning immediately after implementation of the ZT law, especially among drivers with low BACs. The types of court or administrative dispositions received by underage offenders changed markedly after the ZT law was implemented. Underage offenders with lower BACs became far more likely to receive alcohol-related convictions and/or license suspensions. However, the percentage of underage offenders with higher BACs receiving DUI convictions declined as some of these offenders received the lesser ZT disposition. After the ZT law, underage offenders with BACs of 0.10 g/dL or higher were more likely to recidivate than those with lower BACs, but appreciable proportions of drivers were re-arrested for another alcohol offense, whatever the BAC and however they were penalized.
Conclusions: Implementation of Washington's law indicates that a ZT law can increase the likelihood that an underage person will be sanctioned for drinking and driving. However, recidivism remains an issue as more than one in four underage drivers arrested with low BACs subsequently were re-arrested.