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Effectiveness: 5 Star Cost: $$$
Use: High
Time: Medium

Administrative license revocation or suspension (ALR or ALS) laws allow law enforcement and driver licensing authorities to suspend driver licenses if drivers fail or refuse to take BAC tests. 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 when a BAC test is failed or refused. The driver typically receives a temporary license allowing the driver time to make other transportation arrangements and to request and receive an administrative hearing or review. In most jurisdictions, offenders may obtain occupational or hardship licenses during part or all the revocation or suspension periods (NHTSA, 2008a). 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 of an 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 issues,” below). More information about ALR laws can be found in the NCHRP guide on reducing impaired-driving (Goodwin et al., 2005, Strategy C1) and NHTSA’s Traffic Safety Facts on ALR (NHTSA, 2008a).

Use: As of July 2019 there were 44 States and the District of Columbia that had some form of ALR or ALS law for first offenses (GHSA, 2019). Thirty-eight States had minimum license suspensions of at least 90 days, as recommended by NHTSA (GHSA, 2019).

Effectiveness: Many States have had ALR and ALS laws in place for decades, and much of the research examining their effectiveness 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). 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 (Wright, 2010; Nagin & Pogarsky, 2006). 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 driving with BACs in the range of .05 to .08 g/dL, which was in addition to existing sanctions for BACs above .08 g/dL (Byrne et al., 2016). Furthermore, a companion study of the same law found that an immediate 7-day impoundment of driver vehicles resulted in a 33% decrease in drivers who were caught violating court-mandated 90-day suspensions. The 7-day impoundment also reduced recidivism in the following 3-month period by 29%.

Fell & Scherer (2017) found that States with ALR laws, irrespective of the duration, had a 13.1% decrease in the drinking driver ratios (ratio of drivers with BAC ≥ .01 g/dL to drivers with BAC = .00 g/dL) involved in fatal crashes. The effectiveness of ALR was found to be influenced by the length of the ALR suspension period. Increases in States’ ALR laws for suspension duration were associated with decreases in drinking driver ratios among drivers without prior DWI records involved in fatal crashes. Thus, ALR seems to have a general deterrent effect on impaired driving. States with ALR suspension periods longer than 90 days had significantly lower drinking driver ratios than States with shorter suspension periods. In contrast, the presence of an ALR led to a smaller decrease of 1.8% in the intoxicated driver ratio (ratio of drivers with BAC ≥ .08 to drivers with BAC >.00 but < .08) involved in fatal crashes. Thus, ALR may be less effective on habitual or binge drinking drivers. Another notable finding of this study was that ALR may not be effective as a specific deterrent. A comparison of alcohol-positive and alcohol-negative drivers with DWI convictions in the prior 3 years involved in fatal crashes was used as a measure of the specific deterrent effect of ALR suspension length. The authors concluded there was no significant difference in the drinking driver ratio. This finding indicates that other measures such as alcohol ignition interlocks might be needed for specific deterrence among individual drivers, particularly those who habitually drive drunk.

Costs: ALR/ALS laws require funds to design, implement, and operate systems 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: Six to 12 months are required to design and implement the system and to recruit and train administrative hearing officers.

Other issues:

    • Two-track system: Under ALR/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. This two-track system has been challenged in some States.
    • Driving with a suspended license: Some DWI offenders sometimes continue to drive 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), and the Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Sections 4.2, 4.3 and 5.4.
    • Delaying license reinstatement: Many DWI offenders do not reinstate their licenses when they are eligible to do so. About half (49%) of DWI offenders delay license reinstatement for at least a year, while 30% delay reinstatement for 5 years or more (Voas, Tippetts, & McKnight, 2010). Offenders who delay reinstatement are 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 (see Section 4.2) and close monitoring (see Section 4.4).
    • 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 BrAC 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 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).