U.S Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Examining the Effectiveness of Utah's Law Allowing for
Telephonic Testimony at ALR Hearings



            Utah state officials identified a specific problem within the ALR process (driver license reinstatement due to the absence of arresting officers at ALR hearings) and implemented a specific solution.  Through the support of lawmakers, an elegantly simple statute was proposed and passed that allows participation in ALR hearings through telephonic or audio-visual means.  The following factors contributed to the successful implementation of this strategy.

+        Cooperation.  Identifying and solving problems related to ALR hearings are part of an ongoing process in Utah.  This is a commendable attitude; the willingness of State agencies to work together is a healthy approach that will continue to improve the administrative license revocation process.

+        Complete and accessible records.  The state of Utah maintains an extensive driver license record system.  The data processing and acquisition staff of the Utah Driver License Division, Department of Public Safety, were able to access the records and raw data necessary to perform an evaluation. 

+        Willingness to evaluate results.  State officials welcomed an independent evaluation to explore any impact of the telephonic law.

Telephonic testimony was made available because there were problems with Utah peace officers failing to appear at ALR hearings due to a variety of reasons:  short lag time of notices/subpoenas, long travel distances to attend the ALR hearing, conflicts with regularly scheduled personal time off but no ability for law enforcement to reschedule, and lack of support by LEA command due to cost/scheduling issues.  

            Problems remain with tight scheduling due to the statutory 30 day (from date of arrest) ALR hearing requirement.  Administratively, it is difficult to schedule and notify all parties of the selected ALR hearing date within a 20-30 day window (appellants have 10 days from date of arrest to submit a written request for an ALR hearing).  But the time from arrest to hearing date has improved with the mode currently at 29 days, just within the 30-day legal limit.  It is possible that scheduling and notification problems can be addressed further and solutions found, especially if access to computer systems (even email) can be utilized in the future. 

            Problems with the attempted use of ALR hearings for discovery by appellants and their defense attorneys will most likely always be an issue.  Continued training of hearing officers to handle these often delicate and difficult situations, and continued monitoring by supervisors through the audit of hearing tapes and the investigation of sessions where such information was handled inappropriately will keep these attempts to a minimum.  This system, which was set up by Utah state officials, appears to work well.  As a number of peace officers voiced objections as to the line of questioning permitted at ALR hearings, there should be clear procedures for all ALR hearing participants to protest the conduct, as well as the outcome, of the proceedings.    

            The implementation phase of telephonic ALR capabilities in Utah is not yet complete.  Only a small number of hearing officers are routinely using the telephonic capability and they perform the bulk of the ALR telephonic hearings.  Many of the peace officers (32%) who responded to the survey (see Appendix D) were not aware of the ALR telephonic law.  Forty-eight percent of all the peace officers contacted were not aware of current telephonic capabilities for ALR hearings in their area, although some (16%) were aware of the law.  (Note:  We do not know how many of these officers are working in areas where telephonic hearings are not yet available due to lack of facilities.)

            As numbers of DUI-related arrests have been steadily increasing in Utah, the numbers of ALR hearings have been increasing and, therefore, one could assume that the numbers of ALR telephonic hearings will increase naturally.  But, in fact, the number of requests for an ALR hearing more than tripled between 1998 and 2001; and while the percentages of telephonic ALR hearings are also increasing, up to a monthly high of 20% of all ALR hearings, the rate of requests for telephonic hearings have not yet kept pace with the increase in the standard ALR hearing requests.  It is important to increase the use of the telephonic capabilities by law enforcement officers, as long as there are ALR hearings where the arresting officers fail to appear.  Discovery of the telephonic capability and familiarity with the telephonic ALR process will likely increase its use after a period of time. 

            Training must play an important role as almost half (46%) of the peace officers who responded to the survey reported they did not feel adequately trained in the standard ALR hearing procedures (68% of these came from local LEAs), much less telephonic hearings.  It is possible that the absences of arresting officers from ALR hearings, both standard and telephonic, could be due to unease or unfamiliarity with the ALR hearing process, as well as conflicts with work schedules and regularly scheduled time off, coupled with a lack of directive by command officers.  The command staff, as well as the arresting officers, must understand that a strong position with strong testimony during an ALR hearing will enhance law enforcement's position in the judicial process.  Time spent in an ALR hearing could reduce or eliminate the amount of time required of peace officers during the court proceedings, if the defendant pleads guilty after the ALR hearing.

            Defense attorneys are also learning about the benefits of telephonic hearings.  They are more cost effective and less time consuming than having to appear at an ALR hearing, especially if the attorney must travel a significant distance.  There is the possibility that defense attorneys and appellants become so comfortable with the telephonic format that requests for these types of ALR hearings could increase exponentially, as there would be little reason for persons arrested for DUI not to request ALR hearings.  Those arrested for DUI offenses have the option of participating telephonically in the ALR hearing without having to take time to physically appear, and if the arresting officer is absent, their driving licenses are returned.  The defense attorneys could more easily attempt to gather information pertinent to the judicial proceeding for minimal cost to their clients, because their time spent on the ALR hearing is significantly reduced due to their ability to participate telephonically.  Thus, it would become even more important that the arresting officers participate in all ALR hearings.  Otherwise the exact problem that telephonic ALR hearings were meant to reduce or solve, that of the return of driving licenses to appellants due to the absence of law enforcement at the ALR hearings, will actually be compounded.


            ALR hearings as a percentage of arrests more than doubled between 1998 and 2001 (from <10 to 20% of DUI arrests result in an ALR hearing).  Sixty-one percent (61%) of the appellants have legal representation.  It is possible that they are being counseled that if the arresting officer is absent, their driving licenses will be returned.  It is also probable that defense attorneys direct clients to request ALR hearings to give them an opportunity to discover information pertinent to upcoming judicial proceedings.

            Over the seven years (1995-2001) of cumulative data examined during this project, almost half (45%) of the ALR hearings resulted in “no action” (the license was not withdrawn), with 68% of these “no action” findings ruled as a result of the absence of the arresting officer.  Although the number of licenses returned due to the absence of the arresting officers at the ALR hearing increased after the use of telephonic hearings began, the number of all of these “no action” hearings increased at an even higher rate.  So, proportionately, the hearings resulting in “no action” due to peace officers failing to appear actually fell by about 20%.  A time series analysis revealed this reduction to be statistically significant (p=0.01). 

With an increasing volume of ALR hearings each year in Utah (approximately 3,500 at the time of this report), a reduction of this magnitude is significant.  Although this reduction cannot be contributed entirely to the use of the telephonic format, as the reduction began before the implementation of telephonic ALR hearings, we consider the use of telephonic ALR hearings to be a factor in the continued reduced rate of “no action” findings due to the absence of law enforcement.


            Frequently, problematic logistical and/or cost issues have contributed to the absence of LEA officers at ALR hearings in many jurisdictions nationwide.  These absences can jeopardize the outcome of these hearings if, as in Utah, the absence of the arresting officer automatically results in the return of the driving license to the appellant.  This situation allows potentially dangerous drivers to continue to operate motor vehicles, at least until the outcome of the separate judicial review process.  The law that allows the parties involved in an ALR hearing to participate by telephone has been shown during this project to be, at least in part, responsible for increasing the proportion of hearings conducted.  Thus, more drivers arrested for impaired or intoxicated driving have lost driving privileges (rather than keeping the license due to the absence of the arresting officer), fulfilling the intended purpose of the ALR law.

            Based on the findings of this project, we offer the following recommendations.

+        Appropriate statutes should be adopted to allow telephonic[13]administrative hearings in states where there are problems with law enforcement officers failing to appear at ALR hearings.

+        High quality telephonic equipment should be purchased and thoroughly tested before field implementation is initiated to insure high quality audio with as few problems as possible.

+        Hearing officers (or whomever is designated as equipment operators) should be thoroughly trained and monitored to insure they are capable and comfortable with operating the telephonic equipment.

+        The importance of telephonic hearings as an option should be stressed to hearing officers and law enforcement officers.

+        The option of telephonic hearings should be offered statewide.

+        Steps should be taken to make sure law enforcement officers are aware of the option of testifying telephonically and how to do so.

+        Records should be kept by the driver licensing agency as to the number of telephonic hearings conducted, as well as which parties have participated telephonically (i.e., law enforcement agencies, appellants, defense attorneys).  This type of record keeping, along with tracking which hearings are not held and the reasons, allows the agency to pinpoint areas for improvement.

            In addition to the recommendations related to ALR telephonic hearings, we make the following recommendations regarding all ALR hearings:

+        The importance of administrative license action hearings should be stressed to command officers at all law enforcement agencies.  State officials should encourage LEA command officers to encourage arresting officers to attend ALR hearings.

+        Training should always remain an ongoing priority with hearing officers to ensure they are operating uniformly.  Refresher courses, and possibly testing, should be routine for topics such as the role of ALR hearing participants, handling difficult personalities, and allowing only pertinent issues to be addressed by all parties.

+        Training and refresher written procedural materials relative to ALR hearings, both standard and telephonic, should be prepared and made available to all law enforcement officers.  Topics such as the role of the officers during a hearing, dealing with defense attorneys, the proper way to object to inappropriate questions during an ALR hearing, and what types of comments are considered to be proper closing remarks should be covered.

+        There should be appropriate channels to handle complaints on the hearing proceedings and/or outcome, and all parties should be knowledgeable about those channels.

+        The arresting officers should either receive notification of the decision of the hearing officer relative to the licensing action, or there should be an easy way for the arresting officers to telephone a designated individual, or query a data system to learn of the outcome of a hearing.

            The administrative license revocation capability is an important tool in the arsenal of highway safety authorities and is used in many states in the ongoing battle against drinking and driving behavior.  But if the use of this tool is limited due to an unwieldy or ineffective process, then the tool becomes less effective at best and, at worst, ineffective in serving its intended purpose of expeditiously removing unsafe drivers from our nation's roadways, and in quickly sanctioning impaired drivers. 

            This project has studied one solution, allowing telephonic testimony at administrative hearings, as a remedy to the problem of law enforcement officers failing to appear at ALR hearings.  Through this study of the experiences encountered in Utah, we hope to have illuminated the difficulties encountered and the possibilities uncovered by the use of telephonic capabilities during the administrative hearings on licensing actions.  As a result of this project, we conclude that telephonic hearings are a unique, relatively simple solution to a vexing problem that can be readily replicated by other jurisdictions.

[13]Although this study dealt with telephonic capabilities, project staff would encourage any proposed legislation in other states to include audio-visual means as well, to enhance future potential.