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The standard court sanctions for DWI offenses are driver’s license suspension or revocation, fines, jail, and community service. All States use some combination of these sanctions. Details of each State’s laws may be found in NHTSA’s Digest of Impaired Driving and Selected Beverage Control Laws (NHTSA, 2017). Some States set mandatory minimum levels for some sanctions, which often increase for second and subsequent offenders. Most of these measures are widely used. The balance of evidence regarding the effectiveness of these countermeasures remains inconclusive.

License suspension or revocation: All States allow post-conviction license actions. This suspension or revocation typically runs concurrently with any administrative license action. Although administrative license actions are highly effective in reducing crashes (see the section on Legislation and Licensing above), court-imposed license actions appear less effective (Wagenaar & Maldonado-Molina, 2007). Some DWI offenders continue to drive with a suspended or revoked license, and many DWI offenders do not reinstate their license when they are eligible to do so. Consequently, long court-imposed license suspensions may do little to reduce recidivism. Instead, it may be important to encourage DWI offenders to reinstate their licenses, but with appropriate controls such as ignition interlocks and close monitoring.

Fines: Most States impose fines on DWI offenders. Additionally, offenders often face substantial costs for license reinstatement, mandated alcohol education or treatment, insurance rate increases, and legal fees. Available evidence suggests that fines appear to have little effect on reducing alcohol-impaired driving. For example, Wagenaar, Maldonado-Molina, Erickson, et al. (2007) examined alcohol-related fatal crashes across 32 States and concluded that mandatory fines “do not have clearly demonstrable general deterrent or preventive effects” (p. 992). Even though fines may not reduce alcohol-impaired driving, they do help support the system financially.

Jail: All States allow some DWI offenders to be sentenced to jail. The length of sentences varies by State and often depends on the number of prior convictions, the driver’s BAC, whether the crash resulted in an injury or fatality, whether a child passenger was present (child endangerment laws), and several other factors. Jail is the most severe and most contentious of the DWI sanctions. Research on the effectiveness of jail is equivocal at best. Very short (48-hour) jail sentences for first offenders may be effective and the threat of jail may be effective as a deterrent (as is done in DWI and drug courts), but other jail policies appear to have little effect (Voas & Lacey, 2011; NTSB, 2000). Wagenaar et al. (2000) reviewed 18 studies and concluded: “The balance of the evidence clearly suggests the ineffectiveness of mandatory jail sentence policies” (p. 12). In fact, they find “numerous studies that indicate that [mandatory jail] might be a counterproductive policy” (p. 12) that increases alcohol-related crashes.

Community service: Many States allow community service as part of a DWI offender’s sentence and 9 States allow community service in lieu of mandatory jail for first-time offenders (NHTSA, 2017). Community service can provide benefits to society if offenders perform useful work, but even if appropriate jobs can be found there are costs for program operation, offender supervision, and liability. The effects of community service programs on alcohol-impaired driving have not been evaluated (Century Council and National Association of State Judicial Educators, 2008).

Victim Impact Panels: DWI offenders are often required to attend a victim impact panel, in which offenders hear from people whose lives have been permanently altered by an impaired driver. Each year, an estimated 400,000 offenders attend victim impact panels, conducted by more than 200 MADD chapters across the United States (Voas & Lacey, 2011). Although victim impact panels are intuitively appealing, most studies suggest they do not reduce recidivism (Crew & Johnson, 2011; C’deBaca et al., 2001; Shinar & Compton, 1995; Wheeler et al., 2004).