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Administrative license suspension laws allow law enforcement and driver licensing authorities to suspend a driver's license if the driver fails or refuses to take a BAC test. Administrative license revocation laws are similar, except the offender must re-apply for a license once the suspension period ends. Usually, the arresting officer takes the license at the time a driver fails or refuses a BAC test. The driver typically receives a temporary license that allows time to make other transportation arrangements and to request and receive an administrative hearing or review. From a NHTSA review (2008a), in most jurisdictions at that time, an offender could obtain an occupational or hardship license during part or all the revocation or suspension period. NHTSA recommends that ALR laws include a minimum license suspension of 90 days (NHTSA, 2006a). The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (NCUTLO, 2000) has a model ALR law.

ALR and ALS laws provide for swift and certain penalties for DWI rather than the lengthy and uncertain outcomes of criminal courts. They also protect the driving public by removing some DWI offenders from the road (but see the discussion of driving with a suspended license, under “other considerations”). The NCHRP Report 500 guide on reducing impaired-driving (Goodwin et al., 2005) and NHTSA’s Traffic Safety Facts on ALR (NHTSA, 2008a) have more information about ALR laws.


As of July 2020 there were 48 States and the District of Columbia that had some form of ALR or ALS law for a first offense (GHSA, 2020). Thirty-nine States had minimum license suspensions of at least 90 days, as recommended by NHTSA.


Many State ALR and ALS laws have been in place for decades, and much of the research examining the effectiveness of these laws is now dated. For example, a summary of 12 evaluations through 1991 found ALR and ALS laws reduced crashes of different types by an average of 13% (Wagenaar et al., 2000). A more recent study examining the long-term effects of license suspension policies across the United States concluded that ALR reduces alcohol-related fatal crash involvement by 5%, saving an estimated 800 lives each year (Wagenaar & Maldonado-Molina, 2007). Similarly, Fell and Scherer (2017) found States with ALS laws have lower rates of drinking drivers in fatal crashes, especially when suspensions are 91 days or longer. See DeYoung (2013a) for a review of the research on the effectiveness of ALR/ALS laws.

Drivers are less likely to commit offenses when they believe sanctions will be certain and swift (Nagin & Pogarsky, 2006; Wright, 2010). A study in Ontario, Canada, found a 17% decrease in fatalities and injuries after enactment of a law that required immediate roadside license suspensions for drivers with BACs from .05 to .08 g/dL, which was in addition to existing sanctions for BACs above .08 g/dL (Byrne, Ma, Mann, & Elzohairy, 2016). A companion study of the same law found that an immediate 7-day impoundment of drivers’ vehicles reduced recidivism occurring within the following 3-month period by 29% (Byrne, Ma, & Elzohairy, 2016). The Ontario study suggests that swift and certain administrative sanctions—such as ALS and vehicle impoundment—can be highly effective in reducing alcohol impaired-driving crashes and fatalities, and in reducing further impaired driving by DWI offenders.


ALR/ALS laws require funds to design, implement, and operate a system to record and process administrative license actions. In addition, a system of administrative hearing officers must be established and maintained. Some States have recovered ALR or ALS system costs through offender fees (Century Council, 2008; NHTSA, 2008a).

Time to implement:

Designing and implementing the system and recruiting and training administrative hearing officers takes 6 to 12 months.

Other considerations:

  • Two-track system: Under ALR or ALS laws, drivers face both administrative and criminal actions for DWI. The two systems operate independently. Drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked administratively still may face criminal actions that also may include license suspension or revocation.
  • Driving with a suspended license: Some DWI offenders continue to drive on occasion with suspended or revoked licenses (Lenton et al., 2010; McCartt et al., 2002). For strategies to reduce driving with a suspended or revoked license, see Neuman et al. (2003).
  • Delaying license reinstatement: Many DWI offenders do not reinstate their licenses when they are eligible to do so. A study by Voas, Tippetts and McKnight (2010) found that at that time, about half (49%) of DWI offenders delay license reinstatement for at least a year, while 30% delay reinstatement for 5 years or more. Offenders who delay reinstatement were more likely to recidivate than those who have their licenses restored. This suggests it may be important to encourage DWI offenders to reinstate their licenses once eligible, but with appropriate controls such as ignition interlocks and close monitoring.
  • Hearings: An effective ALR system will restrict administrative hearings to the relevant facts: that the arresting officer had probable cause to stop the vehicle and require a breath alcohol concentration test and that the driver refused or failed the test. Such a system will reduce the number of hearings requested, reduce the time required for each hearing, and minimize the number of licenses that are reinstated. When an administrative hearing is not restricted in this way, it can serve as an opportunity for the defense attorney to question the arresting officer about many aspects of the DWI case. This may reduce the chance of a criminal DWI conviction (Hedlund & McCartt, 2002). Officers often spend substantial time appearing in person at ALR hearings, and a case may be dismissed if an officer fails to appear. Some States use telephonic hearings to solve these problems (Wiliszowski et al., 2003).