Q&A: Alcohol — administrative license suspension
- 1 What is an administrative license suspension law?
Administrative license suspension (ALS) laws authorize police to confiscate the licenses of drivers who either fail or refuse to take a chemical test for alcohol. Drivers are given a notice of suspension, which also serves as a temporary permit to drive. Depending on the state, this permit may be valid for 7 to 90 days, during which time the suspension may be challenged. If there is no challenge or if the suspension is upheld, the license is suspended for a prescribed period of time. Suspensions for first offenses vary among jurisdictions from two days to a year but most commonly are 90 days. Longer suspensions are specified for repeat offenders and those who refuse testing. It is important to note that ALS laws do not replace criminal prosecution, which is handled separately through the courts.
- 2 How do ALS laws differ from traditional license suspension?
The administrative licensing action is triggered by failing or refusing to take a chemical test, not by conviction, so anyone arrested is immediately subject to suspension. People whose licenses are suspended have the right to a prompt administrative hearing to determine the validity of the arrest and any alcohol testing.
- 3 Is license suspension an effective sanction?
Yes. Well-designed studies have found reductions in crashes and recidivism among offenders who receive ALS or judicial suspension compared with offenders whose licenses are not suspended. The reductions in violations and crashes associated with license suspension continue well beyond the suspension period. Peck, R.C.; Sadler, D.D.; and Perrine, M.W. 1985. The comparative effectiveness of alcohol rehabilitation and licensing control actions for drunk driving offenders: a review of the literature. Alcohol, Drugs and Driving; Abstracts and Reviews 1(4):15-39. Stewart, K.; Gruenewald, P.; and Roth, T. 1989. An evaluation of administrative per se laws. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice. Voas, R.B.; Tippetts, A.S.; and Taylor, E. 2000. Effectiveness of the Ohio vehicle action and administrative license suspension laws. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Longer periods of license suspension may be expected to have stronger effects, while those of short duration may have very limited effects.
- 4 How effective are ALS laws?
An Institute study found ALS laws reduce the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes by about 9 percent during nighttime hours when alcohol is very likely to be involved. Zador, P.L.; Lund, A.K.; Fields, M.; and Weinberg, K. 1989. Fatal crash involvement and laws against alcohol-impaired driving. Journal of Public Health Policy 10(4):467-85. Another study reported that among 17 states implementing ALS either alone or in combination with other laws, the median effect was a 6 percent decrease in fatal crashes likely to be alcohol related. Klein, T.M. Changes in alcohol-involved fatal crashes associated with tougher state alcohol legislation. Report no. DOT HS-809-511. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A long-term study (1976-2002) of the effects of pre-conviction license suspension laws in 38 states found a 5 percent reduction among drivers with positive blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) involved in fatal crashes. Wagenaar, A.C. and Maldonado-Molina, M.M. 2007. Effects of drivers' license suspension policies on alcohol-related crash involvement: long-term follow-up in forty-six states. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 31(8):1399-1406.
- 5 What's the advantage of ALS?
ALS laws, which apply to both first and repeat offenders, remove impaired drivers from the road quickly and ensure that penalties will be applied. ALS laws result in far more suspensions than do laws that require a criminal conviction. They reduce the incentive for offenders to delay their criminal cases to avoid suspension. They also reduce the likelihood of future alcohol-related violations and crashes. A well-publicized and enforced ALS law increases public perception that punishment for alcohol-impaired driving is likely to occur and will be swiftly applied and appropriately severe — a perception that is necessary to deter potential offenders.
- 6 Are all ALS laws the same?
No. Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have ALS laws, but the laws vary with regard to the length of time a temporary license is valid, the period within which a hearing must be held and the length of suspension. In some states, the licensing action is stayed pending the hearing. Difficulties in conducting administrative hearings in some states have inhibited the use of ALS laws. These difficulties include case backlogs, scheduling conflicts that make it difficult for law enforcement officers to appear at hearings and the use of technicalities to rescind the license suspension. Jones, R.K.; Lacey, J.H.; and Wiliszowski, C.H. 1998. Problems and solutions in DWI enforcement systems. Report no. DOT HS-808-660. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Some states allow hardship licenses so that offenders may drive to work. But studies have shown that suspended drivers rarely lose their jobs. Baker, S.P. and Robertson, L.S. 1975. How drivers prevented from driving would reach work: implications for penalties. Accident Analysis and Prevention 7(1):45-8. Wells-Parker, E. and Cosby, P.J. 1988. Behavioral and employment consequences of driver's license suspension for drinking and driving offenders. Journal of Safety Research 19(1):5-20. Knoebel, K.Y. and Ross, H.L. 1997. Effects of administrative license revocation in employment. Accident Analysis and Prevention 29(5):595-612. A four-state study of the impact of ALS on the employment and income of first and repeat offenders found no major impact on jobs or income. Knoebel, K.Y. and Ross, H.L. 1997. Effects of administrative license revocation in employment. Accident Analysis and Prevention 29(5):595-612.
- 7 Are ALS laws constitutional?
Yes. Courts have held that although licenses are taken prior to a hearing, due process is provided because ALS laws allow for prompt post-suspension hearings. Defendants have claimed that the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the state from prosecuting an offender whose license has been suspended under ALS. But high courts in several states have found that a criminal prosecution following ALS does not violate the double jeopardy clause.
- 8 Are ALS laws costly to implement?
No. They can pay for themselves. In most states, drivers who have their licenses suspended must pay a reinstatement fee to receive a new license at the end of the suspension period. These fees can cover or exceed the cost of the program. A study of three state programs found not only that direct revenues exceeded expenses but also that state costs associated with nighttime crashes declined dramatically. Lacey, J.; Jones, R.; and Stewart, J. 1991. Cost-benefit analysis of administrative license suspensions. Report no. DOT HS-807-689. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.