Guidelines For A Suspended Or Revoked Operator Enforcement Program

Back to Table of Contents

Part Four: Sanctions Against the Vehicle

The research conducted to compile effective operator enforcement programs also revealed some sanctions that are being used to target the vehicle and, therefore, alert patrol officers of a possible revoked or suspended driver. The success and effect of these programs is varied. However, because they address the suspended and revoked driver issue, they are included in this manual. Since these sanctions are oriented toward the vehicle, no statements, opinions, or recommendations are made as to their deterrent capability.


Drivers who persistently drive after their license has been suspended or revoked, can be effectively prevented from operating their vehicle by initiating sanctions against the vehicle, i.e., marking the vehicle registration plate, seizure of the vehicle registration plate, and immobilization.

Marking the License Plate

NHTSA sponsored a study to assess the impact of marking the vehicle registration plate of a vehicle who's driver was found to be operating after license suspension or revocation was conducted in the states of Oregon and Washington. When traffic enforcement personnel stopped and identified a motorist operating after suspension or revocation, the officer placed a "zebra sticker" over the annual registration sticker of the vehicle. Only after the owner of the vehicle showed a currently valid license could the owner receive a new annual sticker. The study determined a major drawback to this type of enforcement. It showed that by marking the vehicle registration plate, all members of the family who operate the vehicle are subject to being stopped and checked for a valid driver's license.

Seizure of the License Plate

The State of Minnesota has a vehicle registration plate impoundment law for persons observed operating a vehicle after their operator's license has been revoked three times within five years or four or more within 15 years for an impaired driving violation. This law allows officers to issue an impoundment order and seize the vehicle registration plates at the time of the driver's arrest. After impoundment, the vehicle registration plates are destroyed. This action proved very effective in deterring a repeat

DWI offenses. If the driver continues to operate the vehicle, any law enforcement officer has probable cause to stop the vehicle to check for proper registration.

In 1991, one year after the law went into effect, drivers who had their vehicle registration plates impounded were found to have a 50% less recidivism rate.

Vehicle Immobilization

Immobilization is the only way to insure the suspended or revoked driver does not operate a certain vehicle. This can be accomplished by utilizing a steering wheel locking device, a tire boot, or physically taking the vehicle. The tire boot and impoundment are expensive and should only be considered when all other enforcement strategies have been exhausted.

Since 1989, the states of Ohio, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Michigan have been using a steering wheel locking device, like the anti-theft devices, as a cost-effective immobilization strategy. The law enforcement agency purchases multiple steering wheel locking devices which are all keyed alike. When a habitual offender's vehicle has been identified, the steering wheel locking device is placed on the vehicle for immobilization purposes. These devices are inexpensive to purchase initially and easy to install. One drawback to this type of immobilization is that the steering wheel locking device can be removed if the owner cuts the steering wheel and removes the device.

The tire boot method of immobilizing a vehicle is very effective because it cannot be removed as easily as the steering wheel locking device. The initial cost of the tire boot is less but it requires more time to install.

When utilizing either strategy, the law enforcement agency is not required to oversee the management and storage of the vehicle. The immobilized vehicle remains in the owners custody and can be worked on mechanically, cleaned and polished, and even started occasionally to keep it operational until the end of the penalty period. Considerations for utilizing these approaches should include the initial cost of purchasing the immobilization devices, continued maintenance of the devices, and personnel requirements.

In extreme cases, the vehicle could be impounded and removed from the physical custody of the owner. This is the most straightforward approach to intervening between the suspended or revoked operator and a vehicle. The drawbacks to this type of strategy are the economic costs agencies must consider. Three types of administrative costs associated with impounding vehicles are:

  • Identification of offenders subject to impoundment.
  • Overseeing the management and storage of vehicles.
  • The cost of disposing any unclaimed vehicles.

These costs include towing, storage fees, advertisement and change of license and title fees. Often, these costs far exceed the vehicle's worth, since many habitual offenders drive vehicles of little value. The agency would then lose money if the owner did not claim their vehicles at the end of the impoundment period.

Ontario, Canada recently enacted a new law to tow and impound the vehicles of non-offender owners who allow impaired or suspended drivers to operate their vehicle. Owners pay all towing and impoundment charges. The only exceptions are those who would suffer extreme hardship if their vehicle was impounded and those who practice due diligence in checking driver status/history before providing a vehicle to drive.

The law significantly affects rental car owners. Frequently, persons with suspended licenses or poor driving records will attempt to rent instead of borrowing a car. This places more responsibility on rental companies to be more diligent in their efforts to verify client acceptability.

Miscellaneous Resources

Law enforcement agencies and criminal justice agencies may consider several sources of information to develop their suspended or revoked operator program. The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies has published a set of nationally recognized criteria for all police operations, management, and administration titled "Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies." These standards include chapters specifically dedicated to enforcement.

The NSA and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) promote and maintain written positions on law enforcement issues including traffic enforcement and safety. "A Manual of Model Police Traffic Services: Policies and Procedures" is also available from the IACP. This publication includes staff and administrative services, crash management, traffic direction and control, selective traffic enforcement, and other highway safety functions that are the responsibility of law enforcement.

Back to Top of Page

Back to Table of Contents