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TRAFFIC TECH

NHTSA People Saving People

Technology Transfer Series

Number 85, February 1995



 REPEAT DWI OFFENDERS IN THE UNITED STATES

In 1992, more people were arrested in the U.S. for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) than any other reported criminal offense. Over 1.6 million drivers were arrested for DUI or DWI compared to 1.5 million people arrested for larceny or theft and 1.1 million people for drug abuse violations. There is public concern that many of these drivers arrested each year for DWI are repeat offenders. There is also convincing evidence that repeat offenders as a group are high risk problem drinker drivers.

This Traffic Tech discusses the extent of the repeat DWI offender problem in various states and some sanctions being used to reduce DWI recidivism. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requested available information from all the states in order to define the extent of the repeat offender problem. Twelve states provided data. The results shown in Table 1 indicate that about one third of all drivers arrested or convicted of DWI each year are repeat DWI offenders. This proportion ranges from 21% of drivers convicted of DWI in Iowa in 1992 to 47% in New Mexico in 1990. The median is around 31% - 32% of arrests and/or convictions. One study in California showed that for every driver convicted of DUI in 1980, a full 44% were convicted again of DUI within 10 years.

Drivers with prior DWI convictions are also overrepresented in fatal crashes and have a greater relative risk of fatal crash involvement. One study showed that about 3 percent of all licensed drivers had a prior arrest for DWI within the past three years, yet 12 percent of intoxicated drivers involved in fatal crashes had at least one prior DWI conviction in the past three years. That same study showed that intoxicated drivers with prior DWI convictions had 4.1 times the risk of being in a fatal crash as intoxicated drivers without prior DWIs. Another study showed that fatal crash risk increases with the number of prior DWI arrests.

About a third of all drivers arrested for DWI are repeat offenders according to the data reported here, and 1 out of 8 intoxicated drivers in fatal crashes have had a prior DWI conviction within the past three years. While this indicates they are a significant problem, repeat offenders do not constitute the majority of the DWI problem in the U.S. Prevention of DWI in the first place and dealing effectively with first time DWI offenders is a rational approach to the problem. State laws, enforcement, and public information and education have recently been effective in reducing impaired driving and alcohol-related crash deaths.

However, evidence from the states indicates that many persons who are arrested and convicted of DWI continue to drink and drive. A number of states and local communities have initiated programs and sanctions to deal with repeat offenders, including:

■ incarceration

■ special DWI facilities

■ house arrest with electronic monitoring

■ victim restitution

■ community service

■ ignition interlock on the vehicle

■ increased fines and insurance rates

■ public condemnation

■ license plate tagging

■ vehicle impoundment or confiscation

Further research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of these specific sanctions.

Given that the likelihood of arrest for DWI varies from 1 in 200 instances in some communities to 1 in 2,000 in others, it is important to prevent impaired driving in the first place. State legislation, such as administrative license revocation and lower blood alcohol limits for adults and youth, and increased enforcement in the form of sobriety checkpoints, have contributed to the recent reduction in drinking and driving. Greater public awareness of the problem and reductions in per capita alcohol consumption have also probably played a role.

Each year, however, 1 percent of all licensed drivers are arrested for DWI, more people than for any other crime. States must show drivers that DWI is a serious offense with correspondingly serious consequences in terms of sanctions and treatment. Mandatory alcohol problem assessment and assignment of appropriate treatment, in addition to sanctions, is a reasonable approach with help from the public health community. Certain vehicle actions applied to repeat offenders may also be appropriate. The fact that this information was readily available in only a few states underscores the importance of developing systems to track DWI offenders (e.g., systems that link criminal justice and driver records).

For more information about this topic, contact:

James Fell, Office of Alcohol and State Programs,
NHTSA, NTS-20,
400 Seventh Street, S.W.,
Washington, DC 20590.

 

INCIDENCE OF REPEAT OFFENDERS IN SELECTED STATES1

DRIVERS CONVICTED OF DWI

STATE

NO. DRIVERS CONVICTED OF DWI

NO. WITH PRIOR DWI CONVICTION

YEAR 2

PERCENT REPEAT DWI OFFENDERS3

Iowa

18,000

3,780

1992 (6 yrs)

21%

Louisiana

101,161

24,918

89-93 (5 yrs)

24%

Nebraska

146,619

38,547

65-94 (30 yrs)

26%

Wisconsin

169,390

52,073

84-88 (5 yrs)

31%

North Carolina

65,714

21,028

1988 (7 yrs)

32%

Ohio

637,678

211,280

80-93 (5 yrs)

33%

California

216,453

72,728

1991(7 yrs)

34%

New Mexico

16,184

7,637

1990 (30 yrs)

47%

DRIVERS ARRESTED FOR DWI

STATE

NO. DRIVERS ARRESTED FOR DWI

NO. WITH PRIOR DWI ARREST

YEAR 2

PERCENT REPEAT DWI OFFENDERS3

South Dakota

8,821

2,090

1993 (5 yrs)

24%

Colorado

99,848

26,335

89-91(5 yrs)

26%

Texas

352,372

125,941

87-90 (10 yrs)

36%

Minnesota

30,717

14,034

1993 (30 yrs)

46%

 

1    These twelve states may not be necessarily representative of all fifty states in the U.S.

2    Years in parentheses indicate the number of years in which the records of prior DWI offenses were available. In general, the percent of repeat offenders was greater in states that retained driving records for longer periods of time (NM, TX, MN).

3    These percentages may be conservative. Some drivers arrested or convicted of DWI in one state may have DWI arrests or convictions in another state that were not identified or were not in the current driver record.

 


 

 U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway
Traffic Safety
Administration
400 Seventh Street, S.W. NTS-33
Washington, DC 20590

Traffic Tech is a publication to disseminate information about traffic safety programs, including evaluations, innovative programs, and new publications. Feel free to copy it as you wish.

If you would like to receive a copy contact:
Linda Cosgrove, Ph.D., Editor,
Evaluation Staff
Traffic Safety Programs
(202) 366-2759