The State of Minnesota implemented a high-BAC law on January 1, 1998. In most respects, the law was one of the strongest high-BAC statutes in the country. This evaluation of Minnesota’s high-BAC statute examined the types and numbers of offenders affected by the law and the effects of the law on the severity of case dispositions and recidivism among high-BAC offenders. The evaluation encompassed three tasks. First, documents related to impaired driving (termed DWI) laws and the high-BAC statute were reviewed. Second, analyses were conducted of data on high-BAC and other DWI offenses and their dispositions, rates of recidivism among DWI offenders, and BACs among fatally injured drivers. To the extent possible, these data were examined for a period before and a period after the high-BAC law took effect. Third, interviews were conducted with enforcement, court, prosecutorial, and sanctioning experts about the implementation and perceived effects of Minnesota’s high-BAC statute.
Minnesota has an active impaired driving safety community. A longstanding DWI Task Force works to identify ways to strengthen DWI laws and practices. There is considerable documentation related to DWI laws and practices in Minnesota. For example, the annual Minnesota’s DWI Laws and Practices provides detailed descriptions of DWI laws and associated penalties, as well as a historical perspective on the DWI system (for example, Cleary, Shapiro, 2001). In addition, the impaired driving safety community has benefited from strong analytical capabilities in the Office of Traffic Safety, the State Legislature, and the academic community. Although DWI case-level data are not readily available from the court system, the wide application of administrative sanctions to DWI offenses has made it possible to conduct research studies and produce periodic statistical reports using data from the driver license files. The annual Impaired Driving Facts (Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, 2001) provides detailed current and historical summaries of the dispositions of impaired driving incidents, rates of recidivism, and alcohol-related crashes.
There have been several special studies on the implementation or effects of various countermeasures and sanctions in Minnesota (for example, Cleary, 2000). For example, a 1994 study of license plate impoundment for repeat DWI offenders found that implementation increased 12-fold when the law became administrative rather than solely court-based. The rate of recidivism among violators who received administrative impoundment orders was significantly lower than the rate among those who did not (Rodgers, 1994).
In short, Minnesota provided an ideal setting for this study, due to the relatively strong provisions of the high-BAC law; the availability of good historical and current data on DWI offenses; access to a wide range of publications that describe and analyze the DWI system of laws and penalties; the availability of considerable expertise concerning Minnesota’s DWI laws and systems; and the state’s interest in taking a critical look at the high-BAC law.