Skip to main content
You can also sort pages by filters.
Table of Contents
Download the Full Book

Effectiveness: Proven for reducing recidivism 4 Star Proven for reducing recidivism Cost: Varies
Use: Medium
Time: Short

Many States have implemented sanctions affecting DWI offender license plates or vehicles. These sanctions are intended to prevent the offender from driving the vehicle while the sanctions are in effect, and also to deter impaired driving by the general public. Vehicle and plate sanctions include:

  • Special license plates for drivers whose licenses have been revoked or suspended. The plates allow family members and other people to drive the offenders’ vehicles but permit law enforcement to stop the vehicles to verify that the drivers are properly licensed.
  • License plate impoundment. Officers seize and impound or destroy the license plates.
  • Vehicle immobilization. Vehicles are immobilized on the offenders’ property with  “boots” or “clubs.”
  • Vehicle impoundment. Vehicles are stored in public impound lots.
  • Vehicle forfeiture. Vehicles are confiscated and sold at auction.

NHTSA (2008d), DeYoung (2013b), and Voas et al. (2004) give an overview of vehicle and license plate sanctions and are the basic references for the information provided below. See also Brunson and Knighten (2005, Practice #4), and Neuman et al. (2003, Strategies B1, B2, and C1). All vehicle and license plate sanctions require at least several months to implement.

Use, effectiveness, and costs:

  • Special license plates are permitted in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, and Oregon (NCSL, 2016a). Ohio requires special plates for all first-time offenders with BACs of .17 g/dL and above and for all repeat offenders. Effectiveness and costs have not been evaluated in any State. In the 1990s, Oregon and Washington adopted versions of this strategy by allowing arresting officers to place “zebra stripe” stickers on the license plates at the time of arrest. Oregon’s program effectively reduced DWI recidivism but Washington’s did not. Use has been discontinued in both States (Neuman et al., 2003, Strategy B1; NHTSA, 2008d).
  • License plate impoundment is used in at least 9 States (NHTSA, 2016a). In Minnesota license plate impoundment administered by arresting officers was shown to reduce both recidivism and driving with suspended licenses, especially among the youngest offenders (Leaf & Preusser, 2011; Rogers, 1995). Since plate impoundment does not involve the courts, it occurs quickly, consistently, and efficiently (Neuman et al., 2003, Strategy B2; NHTSA, 2008d; NTSB, 2000).
  • Laws in 12 States allow vehicle immobilization (NHTSA, 2017). An evaluation in Ohio found that immobilization reduced recidivism (Voas et al., 1998). Costs are minimal compared to impoundment or forfeiture (Neuman et al., 2003, Strategy C1; NTSB, 2000).
  • Thirteen States and the District of Columbia allow for vehicle impoundment and some use it extensively (GHSA, 2018a). Vehicle impoundment reduces recidivism while vehicles are in custody and to a lesser extent after vehicles have been released (Byrne, Ma, & Elzohairy, 2016). The strategy is costly, and owners may abandon low-value vehicles rather than pay substantial storage costs (Neuman et al., 2003, Strategy C1; NTSB, 2000). Towing fees are often considerable, and storage fees can range from $18 to $95 per day (City of Columbus, 2019; San Jose Police Department, 2018). In California impoundment programs are administered largely by towing contractors and supported by fees paid when drivers reclaim their vehicles or by the sale of unclaimed vehicles. An evaluation of California’s impoundment law found both first-time and repeat offenders whose vehicles were impounded had fewer subsequent arrests for driving with suspended licenses and fewer crashes (DeYoung, 1997).
  • Twenty-nine States have provisions allowing vehicle forfeiture for impaired driving and/or driving with a suspended license (NHTSA, 2016a); however, there is little information on its use or effectiveness. Vehicle forfeiture programs must pay storage costs until the vehicles are sold or otherwise disposed (Neuman et al., 2003, Strategy C1; NTSB, 2000).

Time to implement: Vehicle and license plate sanctions can be implemented as soon as appropriate legislation is enacted.

Other issues:

  • To whom are vehicle sanctions applied: Most vehicle sanctions have been applied to repeat offenders rather than first offenders, although some States also apply vehicle sanctions to high-BAC (.15 g/dL or higher) first offenders. If someone other than the offender owns the vehicle, a State should consider requiring the vehicle owner to sign an affidavit stating the owner will not allow the offender to drive the vehicle while the suspension is in effect (NHTSA, 2008d).
  • Administrative issues: All license plate and vehicle sanctions require administrative structures to process the license plates or vehicles. Laws should permit officers to impound vehicles or license plates at the time of arrest so offenders do not have the opportunity to transfer vehicle ownership (NHTSA, 2008d).