Banner-Evaluation of Minnesota's High-BAC Law

3. Evaluation of Minnesota's High-BAC Law

Interviews with Experts

Implementation Issues.

Officials with the state DPS reported that the implementation of the law necessitated some programming changes to trigger the appropriate license and vehicle sanctions for high-BAC offenders, and to include the BAC on the driver license record. However, two other issues emerged after the law had been in effect for some time.

First, some defense attorneys sought to have the BAC of record lowered on the conviction record and the driver license record when a high-BAC offense was pled down to a standard DWI conviction. It was reported that both the court clerks and DPS officials refused to accommodate this request. A second problem emerged as a result of the turnaround dispositions available to high-BAC first-time offenders. When DPS initiates an administrative plate impoundment, DPS confiscates the plate. Because a turnaround disposition reduces the length of the plate impoundment period, a significant proportion of offenders receiving a turnaround disposition were entitled to restoration of the plate. Processing the restoration and purchasing and mailing the new plates represented a considerable cost to the DPS. As noted earlier, this issue was resolved by legislation enacted in 2001 that excludes high-BAC offenders from a reduced impoundment period.

Several experts noted that there were initial concerns that the BAC test refusal rate would increase, especially among repeat offenders, when the high-BAC law was implemented. (Based on the results of this evaluation, the BAC test refusal rate declined from 1997 to 2000.) It was believed that the strong penalties for refusals helped to prevent an increase in the refusal rate. It also was believed by some experts that the high-BAC law had had little effect on the refusal rate because many offenders, especially first-time offenders, are unaware of the high-BAC law.

Perceived General and Deterrent Effects.

There was considerable skepticism regarding the law’s general deterrent effects. Several persons noted that there had been little publicity about the law; thus, it was believed that the general public was largely unaware that a higher BAC would result in more severe penalties. It was believed that there was possibly greater awareness of the high-BAC law among offenders who frequently drink and drive. However, some experts did not believe that the imposition, or threat, of more severe penalties would be effective in reducing drinking and driving among such persons, most of whom – the experts believe – have an alcohol dependency.