A Comprehensive Youth DUI Enforcement Strategy

In 1992, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) entered into a cooperative agreement with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) for a project jointly funded by that agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The project sought to increase cooperation among members of the criminal justice system and the community for the purpose of combating juvenile impaired driving. The project also sought to reduce the overall incidence of drug- and alcohol-related traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving juveniles.

PERF first developed a demonstration project to identify innovative methods used in jurisdictions around the country. PERF’s approach was to unite key components of the criminal justice system (police, prosecutors, judges, and probation officers) into a single, comprehensive Juvenile DUI Enforcement Program.

After creating the Juvenile DUI Enforcement Program, PERF solicited the involvement of five jurisdictions that had agreed to take a comprehensive approach to addressing juvenile DUI. Those jurisdictions served as demonstration sites where the DUI enforcement program could be implemented and tested. Although the sites were already employing innovative programs for juvenile impaired drivers, they took on added responsibilities in implementing the project’s new program.

Use of the techniques and policies identified and developed in the comprehensive Juvenile DUI Enforcement Program has resulted in increased arrests of juveniles driving under the influence and subsequent declines in juvenile-related crash, injury, and death rates.

A year after the demonstration period ended, PERF, OJJDP, and NHTSA convened a forum with representatives from each site to review the juvenile DUI program and suggest changes based on their departments’ experiences. The comprehensive Juvenile DUI Enforcement Program that resulted reflects their real-world experience and advice. That program consists of eight major elements.

Major Elements of the Juvenile DUI Enforcement Program
  • Policy Oversight and Coordination
  • Strategic and Tactical Planning
  • Reactive and Proactive Enforcement
  • Prosecution
  • Adjudication and Diversion
  • Supervision and Treatment
  • Public Education
  • Feedback and Evaluation

Why is this program so inclusive?
(Or, why you cannot do it alone)

One of the canons of effective traffic safety programs, reinforced by experiences in the demonstration sites, is that all components of the traffic safety system must be included up front and either participate in or at least not interfere with the program. For example, every chief knows what happens to arrests when prosecutors routinely decline to pursue low-BAC cases or judges refuse to “take judicial notice” of a new piece of equipment or technique—arrests decline.

This “criminal justice feedback system” operates at all levels, both formally and informally, and defines how far participants can go in pursuing their responsibilities. Successful enforcement programs plan to inform, include, and acknowledge all the key “actors” in the community. Those parties include the police, prosecutors, judges, probation officers, driver licensing and treatment personnel, the general public, businesses, and special interest and civic groups.

Take a look at each major component of the program.

Policy Oversight and Coordination

Central to the implementation and success of a youth DUI enforcement program is the establishment of a community policy group. Whether called a task force, council, or advisory group, this new or pre-existing organization contains the community’s key players or

Don’t assume everyone
is operating with the
same level of
understanding about
the issue or the
criminal justice process.

their representatives. Group members are responsible for taking the basic framework of the juvenile DUI program and adapting it to the needs and resources of their jurisdiction. They have several jobs:

  • Help form a consensus for action.
  • Provide political support for program activities.
  • Provide a forum for frequent communication and problem solving.
  • Ensure the cooperation and participation of all necessary elements of the criminal justice system and key government agencies.
  • Manage the program and develop resources to support it.

The group should include both official criminal justice system members, such as law enforcement, judiciary, prosecution, prevention, treatment, and probation representatives, and community members who are not part of the criminal justice system. See Chapter 4 for more information on organizing this key group.

Strategic and Tactical Planning

Determining the nature and extent of the juvenile DUI problem is essential to effective strategic and tactical program planning. Strategic and tactical planning for the program by the core group should come first, before enforcement activities are begun. It should include these elements:

  • Problem identification and goal setting.
  • Information collection (especially from youths themselves and alcohol servers and sellers).
  • Use of allied agencies (such as alcohol beverage control, zoning, and health departments; and natural resources, parks, and fish and game commissions) in enforcement efforts.
  • Focus on general deterrence—that is, increasing perception of risk of arrest and penalty.

Effective strategic and tactical planning will improve arrest efficiency and deterrence. Standard information-collection techniques, such as analyzing youth crash and alcohol-related arrest data, will help suggest patrol deployment changes. However, other excellent sources of information are available from youths themselves. Party hot lines, announcements posted on bulletin boards, Web sites, flyers, and in-school talks have all been productive.

General deterrence, the strategy of preventing criminal activity before it occurs, is the hallmark of effective policing. Without all the elements of deterrence- increased perceived risk of arrest and effective sanctions quickly applied—sustained crime reduction is not likely. See the companion document, Part III: Support Tools for Building Programs That Work, for more information on how to plan strategically for your community.

Enhanced DUI enforcement occurs through the combination of proactive, reactive, and planning elements, represented below by three circles. After an initial self-assessment, communities can increase their efforts where needed until all three circles interlock and overlap. The circles interlock because all three are needed for successful DUI enforcement, and they overlap because each effort builds on the others. This area of overlap represents the juvenile DUI program’s strategy for success. What works will be different with each locality, but all communities can structure their efforts according to this strategy.

Strategy for Success = Strategic and Tactical Planning + Proactive Enforcement + Reactive Enforcement

Reactive and Proactive Enforcement

Responding to the situation already on the street consumes the majority of most departments’ time and energy. Maximizing the deterrent effect of each traffic stop is important. Concepts such as “triple jeopardy” stress that stops for impaired driving, speed, or seat belt use must trigger checks for all three violations. The concept of “looking beyond the ticket” recognizes traffic enforcement’s ability to identify and suppress other crimes. These initiatives require no additional resources from the police. They do, however, require a commitment from the command staff, the patrol division, and any other unit assigned to traffic or DUI enforcement.

Don’t worry if
statistics go up at first.

Other reactive enforcement programs focus on reducing the time a patrol officer spends processing a DUI arrest; having taxi drivers and other motorists report suspected impaired drivers; and setting up sobriety checkpoints to target areas of extensive underage drinking.

Finally, reactive enforcement strategies should include the use of driver’s license sanctions such as administrative license revocation (ALR). Many advocates believe that prompt, mandatory suspension or revocation of juvenile drivers’ licenses for DUI is a successful deterrent.


Without question, every officer and chief would prefer to prevent or suppress juvenile drinking and driving rather than make an arrest or investigate a crash. Identifying local ordinances, patrol techniques, or other activities to accomplish that goal is what proactive law enforcement is all about. For example, one site enacted a local keg registration ordinance that helped identify purchasers and sellers of beer kegs (kegs were often found abandoned when underage drinkers scattered). Publicity about the program helped reduce youths’ access to alcohol and encourage responsible sales practices.

Use technology, such
as video cameras
and portable breath-alcohol
where appropriate.

Police should also make use of available technology to help reduce the occurrence of juvenile impaired driving. In Hampton, the DUI Video Program was implemented as a tool to assist officers during the trials of suspected impaired drivers. In that program, a video camera is mounted in a patrol unit and is used to record the actions of a suspected impaired driver during the sobriety testing phase of the traffic stop. According to police, the program has been an extremely valuable addition and has received the support of the public and the acceptance of the courts.

For examples and details of specific enforcement programs, see the NHTSA report Underage DWI Enforcement, written by officers for officers, and the document Strategies for Success: Combating Juvenile DUI—Part II: The Eight Foundation Elements of a Successful DUI Strategy.


Prosecutors should
establish a written
office policy to
ensure consistency
and uniformity
of prosecutions.

Overwhelming prosecutors with a flood of unanticipated juvenile DUI cases would obviously doom any new enforcement initiative. However, with reasonable planning and the personal involvement of the chief and the courts, new strategies have been successfully implemented. Phoenix created a Prosecutor’s Pretrial Conference, which allows a first-time juvenile DUI or minor-in-possession offender (along with his or her parents) to meet with the prosecutor to discuss a plea agreement in lieu of trial. Prosecutor case time has been significantly reduced, as has the juvenile court’s DUI and minor-in-possession docket. Other examples of effective prosecution strategies can be found in Strategies for Success: Combating Juvenile DUI—Part II: The Eight Foundation Elements of a Successful DUI Strategy.

Prosecutors should examine the issues and write a policy to ensure consistent and uniform prosecutions. The policy should be comprehensive but leave an escape clause that allows the chief prosecutor to exercise discretion when appropriate. With a clear prosecutorial policy, police can be assured of support in court that will complement their efforts in the field. They should also be given the courtesy of an explanation when exceptions are made.

Characteristics of Departments with High Arrest Rates for Youths Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
  • Police management emphasizes proactive DWI enforcement.
  • Officers are commended for a DWI arrest.
  • Arrests at and below the presumptive limit are made and prosecuted.
  • Regular patrols “hand off” suspects to DWI specialists (limiting the regular patrol processing burden).
  • Police are involved in community alcohol/drug prevention.
  • Community provides positive support for DWI enforcement.
  • Officers are provided extensive training (DWI detection, gaze nystagmus, DWI processing).
Source: D. F. Preusser, P. L. Ulmer, and C. W. Preusser, Obstacles to Enforcement of Youthful (Under 21) Impaired Driving, final report to NHTSA under contract DTNH22-91-C-05020.

“Judges should reinforce law enforcement’s efforts. They should set special dockets for juvenile alcohol-related offenses at convenient times for officers, if necessary.”
Honorable Philip Trompeter, Roanoke

Adjudication and Diversion

New strategies have also been employed to reduce the juvenile DUI and minor-in-possession caseloads before the courts. While most traffic safety experts, NHTSA, and the National Commission Against Drunk Driving recommend against traditional diversion programs, administrative adjudication under such new laws as “use and lose,” which applies driver’s license sanctions, are proving successful. California has employed a similar procedure that uses court-appointed traffic hearing officers to adjudicate juvenile cases in a private setting.

Judges must recognize that they can, and should, take a proactive stance in addressing juvenile DUI, and communities must take steps to increase the participation of the judiciary. PERF has developed an excellent new video and discussion guide for judges on juvenile DUI, titled Beyond the Bench: How Judges Can Help Reduce Juvenile DUI and Alcohol and Other Drug Violations. (For a copy of the video, contact OJJDP or NHTSA at the addresses and phone numbers listed at the beginning of this document.)

Supervision and Treatment

The challenge for the criminal justice system is to fashion treatments appropriate to the juvenile offender and the offense. The best sanctions achieve both deterrence and treatment or remediation.

Court-referred education programs usually provide classroom instruction on alcohol and the consequences of drinking and driving in an attempt to reduce recidivism among DUI offenders. Research on offenders who attended Alcohol Drugs Education Traffic Schools (ADETS) has shown, however, that these programs are more effective in reducing crashes if they are combined with licensing sanctions or other punitive approaches. (See “The Deterrent Effect of Education on DWI Recidivism” by Carol Lederhaus Popkin in Alcohol, Drugs and Driving, Volume 10, Numbers 3-4, Los Angeles: University of California at Los Angeles Brain Information Service/Brain Research Institute, 1994.) Driver’s license sanctions coupled with a referral for education or treatment and supervision appear to be the best approach.

One example of a strategy that has achieved excellent results is Tulsa’s Youthful Drunk Driving (YDD) Program, which targets first-time offenders aged 16- 25. The program gives young offenders a chance to observe the traumatic consequences of drunk driving and to reflect on the severity of their offense. Requirements of the program include a visit to a hospital emergency room to observe alcohol-related trauma; a trip to a rehabilitation center to see people

“If I had killed anyone that night, it wouldn’t have just destroyed me, it would have torn apart a family, and there would be nothing I could ever say or do to make things right.”
Aaron Smith
Participant in Tulsa’s
Youthful Drunk Driving Program

who have suffered from spinal cord or brain injuries; an alcohol education and counseling session to discuss ways to avoid drinking and driving in the future; and participation on a victim impact panel. Participants must also write a 1,000-word essay describing their program experiences and what they learned. The program has just a 1-percent recidivism rate, illustrating its success in responding to juvenile offenders.

Public Education

Establish rapport
with the media up front.
Give feedback on
your efforts.

Without an aggressive public education and media component, prevention and deterrence are unlikely. The community advisory council can play a large role in leveraging private and public support for mounting a professional media and public relations campaign. A media subcommittee should include the police department’s media officer, local public relations company representatives, and local media representatives on the advisory council.

Used alone, public service announcements do not constitute a program and are simply ineffective. Communities have employed in-school programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E. ® ) and victim impact panels, alcohol server and seller training programs, prom and graduation programs, and many other communication ideas. Strategies for Success: Combating Juvenile DUI— Part II: The Eight Foundation Elements of a Successful DUI Strategy offers the details.

School officials should be educated about the extent of the youth DUI problem, and they need to be told if any students are arrested or involved in an illegal activity. Schools are also capable of imposing sanctions, such as a suspension from playing sports, which can be effective in reducing the incidence of impaired driving among juveniles.

Educating and involving the parents of underage youths is also crucial. Often parents are unaware of or simply refuse to acknowledge their children’s use of alcohol or other drugs. Even when parents recognize a problem, they may be unaware of how they can work with law enforcement and other members of the community in youth DUI efforts. See Part III: Support Tools for Building Programs That Work for more information on parental education.

Feedback and Evaluation

Determining whether all the program activities and expended resources have achieved their intended result is important. Therefore, you’ll need to obtain structured feedback and conduct an evaluation of the eight foundation elements. Adjustments may have to be made based on recommendations from participants. Some evaluations will require the elimination of unsuccessful programs or the creation of new ones. If the feedback indicates that programs are working, an evaluation will still provide information that can be used to sustain support for the overall program. The evaluation should be creative, as it will help sell the program to people who will engage in these projects.

There are many ways to evaluate DUI enforcement efforts. Surveys of justice system personnel, public interest groups, parents, high school students, and juvenile DUI offenders themselves can all yield valuable answers as to how well the program is working. Other approaches are quantitative rather than qualitative: testing to see whether specific numerical targets, or milestones, have been met is a necessary component of the evaluation phase. Data should be collected on changes in the number of DUI crashes, arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and other results. If communities calculate how much they have spent on the DUI program, they will be able to see exactly how much was spent for each life saved, each additional prosecution, etc. Communities able to show high rates of return—great results at low cost—will serve as models for other communities.

Many communities have found success by evaluating the results of their DUI efforts in dollar terms. Tulsa found that its Youthful Drunk Driving Program had just a 1-percent recidivism rate but wanted to know how much money was being saved because of the program. Tulsa examined the costs of recidivist cases in a similar city’s court. By comparing those findings to Tulsa’s low costs of recidivism, Tulsa was able to pinpoint an important measure of savings.

Members of the community should be kept updated about the results of each evaluation, including what the DUI program has accomplished or failed to accomplish and the impact of those successes or failures on the overall problem of juvenile DUI. These reports should stem from both “hard” evaluations, such as the dollar amounts the community has saved, and “soft,” which identify what kind of goodwill has been created. The use of these evaluations, whether positive or negative, ensures that a community’s DUI enforcement efforts are ongoing and constantly evolving. Juvenile DUI enforcement is a cyclical process, and this final component of the Juvenile DUI Enforcement Program allows the process to begin again and to strive for ever greater efficiency and effectiveness.

The question most communities face is how to accomplish these activities with limited resources. With the right members, the community advisory council can help leverage evaluation support. Local colleges and universities have the expertise needed. Also, funds are available from federal and state highway safety offices (Section 402 and 410 grants) and public health agencies.