1.5 Alcohol-Impaired-Driving Law Review
Overall Effectiveness Concerns: This countermeasure has not been systematically examined. There are insufficient evaluation data available to conclude that the countermeasure is effective.
Alcohol-impaired-driving laws in many States are extremely complex. They may be difficult to understand, enforce, prosecute, and adjudicate, with many inconsistencies and unintended consequences. In many States, a thorough review and revision would produce a system of laws that would be far simpler and more understandable, efficient, and effective.
DWI laws have evolved over the past 30 years to incorporate new definitions of the offense of driving while impaired (illegal per se laws), new technology and methods for determining impairment (e.g., BAC tests, SFSTs), and new sentencing and monitoring alternatives (e.g., electronic monitoring, alcohol ignition interlocks). Many States modified their laws to incorporate these new ideas without reviewing their effect on the overall DWI control system. The result is often an inconsistent patchwork. Robertson and Simpson (2002) summarized the opinions of hundreds of LEOs, prosecutors, judges, and probation officials across the country: “Professionals unanimously support the simplification and streamlining of existing DWI statutes” (p. 18). See also Hedlund and McCartt (2002).
About a year before it disbanded, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances prepared a model DWI law, which has been incorporated into the Uniform Vehicle Code (NCUTLO, 2000). It addressed BAC testing, BAC test refusals, higher penalties for high-BAC drivers, ALR hearing procedures, and many other issues of current interest. States can use the NCUTLO model as a reference point in reviewing their own laws. In addition, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation has a guidebook to assist policymakers in leading a strategic review of DWI systems, with the goal of streamlining systems and closing loopholes that can be exploited by offenders (Robertson, Vanlaar, & Simpson, 2007). NHTSA also has created several guidebooks, including one to assist States in establishing impaired-driving statewide task forces to review key legislation and improve current DWI systems (Fell & Langston, 2009), and another to assist officials and the general public in establishing task forces at local or regional levels (Fell et al., 2011).
At a State’s request, NHTSA will facilitate an Impaired Driving Program Assessment to evaluate the State’s impaired-driving system and to make recommendations for strengthening its programs, policies, and practices. NHTSA and the SHSO assemble an assessment team comprised of national and State experts in impaired driving. The team reviews and documents the strengths and weaknesses of the State’s existing impaired-driving system and provides the State recommendations on actions that can be taken to improve the impaired driving system.
Use: No data are available on which States have reviewed and revised their DWI laws.
Effectiveness: To date no studies have examined the effectiveness of law reviews in reducing alcohol-impaired crashes. The effect of a law review will depend on the extent of inconsistencies and inefficiencies in a State’s current laws. A law review can be an important action a State takes to address its alcohol-impaired-driving problem, because a thorough law review will examine the function of the entire DWI control system and will identify problem areas. The immediate effect of a law review should be a more efficient and effective DWI control system.
Some States that have incorporated assessments into their programs have experienced declines in impaired driving fatality rates (Coleman & Mizenko, 2018). Based on the results of an assessment, each of three States developed an impaired-driving strategic plan and formed a leadership team comprised of both government and non-government stakeholders to develop and implement policies and procedures for reducing impaired fatalities. Impaired-fatality rates per 100 million VMT improved in each State (0.66 to 0.36 from 2004 to 2015 in New Mexico, 0.42 to 0.23 from 2000 to 2009 in Washington State, and 0.44 to 0.36 from 2012 to 2015 in Oklahoma) after adopting the model. However, these outcomes do not suggest a causal relationship between the specifics of the impaired-driving strategic plan and improvements in fatality rates. More research is needed to determine what factors influenced the improvements.
Costs: The review will require substantial staff time. Implementation costs of course will depend on the extent to which the laws are changed.
Time to implement: It can take considerable time to identify qualified stakeholders and establish a task force to conduct the law review.
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