U.S Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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


            Administrative license revocations (ALR) and administrative license suspensions (ALS) for driving while impaired (DWI), are actions that are controlled by state driver licensing agencies, and are separate from any court actions.  The purpose of ALR/ALS is to allow the suspension or revocation of driving privileges of those drivers at or above the illegal limit for blood or breath alcohol concentration through administrative actions.  This is typically a more expeditious route that allows state agencies to remove unsafe drivers from the roadways and to administer licensing actions faster, and with more certainty, than judicial proceedings. 

In most instances, the driver license suspension/revocation is imposed administratively based on the arresting officer's report of the breath test result or refusal.  However, individuals arrested for DWI may request a hearing to protest the administrative withdrawal of their driving privileges and to try and have their driver licenses reinstated.  Procedures associated with conducting these administrative hearings have often presented difficulties in the smooth implementation of ALR/ALS laws, thereby inhibiting the use of such laws.

This project has studied a unique solution, allowing telephonic testimony at administrative license hearings in Utah, as a remedy to the problem of law enforcement officers failing to appear at ALR hearings (a common problem across the United States).  This problem and solution, as well as others surrounding ALR implementation within the state of Utah, are documented in this report. 


            Project staff visited Utah and met with state level officials from the Driver Services Bureau, a part of the Utah Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division, to learn about the laws and procedures related to ALR and the associated hearings.  In order to learn as much as possible about the ALR process in Utah, project staff talked with all hearing officers and supervisors who handle ALR hearings in Utah, police officers from a variety of law enforcement agencies operating within the State, defense attorneys representing individuals arrested for DUI offenses, persons responsible for maintaining and providing pertinent driver record data, as well as the Utah Governor's Highway Safety Representative, NHTSA regional staff, and the state level officials mentioned above.

            Methods employed to obtain pertinent information included interviews, focus groups, data analysis from State level driver license record databases, and a survey conducted in conjunction with the Utah Department of Public Safety.  The evaluation focused on any impact on the number of ALR hearings held, the number of telephonic hearings, the number of hearings where one or more participants failed to appear, and the outcome of all ALR hearings.  We received data relating to ALR hearings beginning in 1995 throughout the project time period (2001).


            The Utah Driver License Division, by statute, has 30 days from the date of a DUI-related arrest to comply with a driver's written request for an administrative hearing regarding the driver license action.  Due to detailed record keeping, State officials were able to determine that a significant number of law enforcement officers were not appearing at ALR hearings.  As a result, no action had been taken against those drivers who had been arrested for DUI-related offenses, and they were permitted to keep their driver licenses pending court actions.

            Arresting officers might not appear at an ALR hearing for a variety of reasons.  Conflicts could arise with training schedules, work-related duties such as a crash investigation could take priority, and personal reasons could interfere when a hearing is scheduled during the officer's vacation or off-duty hours when officers have other commitments.  Also, there were indications that in some law enforcement agencies (LEAs), command officers do not encourage the arresting officers to attend hearings because it takes the officers out of service, and their Departments must pay most of the costs for the officers' time.

            During the year 2000 General Session, Utah state legislators enacted Section 53-3-223.5 of the Utah Code to allow telephonic or live audio-visual testimony by law enforcement officers, defendants and attorneys at administrative license hearings.  The law states, “In any division hearing authorized under this chapter or Title 41, Chapter 6, Article 5, Driving While Intoxicated and Reckless Driving, the division may permit a party or witness to attend or to testify by telephone or live audio-visual means.”  While a few unofficial telephonic hearings were held during the summer months of 2000, the actual implementation began in September of that year, with telephonic capabilities increasing throughout the following months.


            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 “no action” hearings increased at an even higher rate.  The total number of hearings requested also increased dramatically.  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).  Although this reduction cannot be attributed 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.

            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 telephonic hearings have not yet kept pace with the increase in the standard ALR hearings.  It is important to increase the use of the telephonic testimony capabilities by law enforcement, as long as there are ALR hearings where the arresting officers fail to appear. 

            Telephonic hearing capabilities in Utah have not yet been fully implemented throughout the State.  Relatively few of the hearing officers are routinely utilizing the telephonic capability.  Many of the law enforcement officers (32%) contacted during this project were not aware of the ALR telephonic law.  Almost half (48%) of the LEA officers contacted were not aware of telephonic capabilities in their area for ALR hearings.  (In fact, it may be true that many of the officers who responded to the survey are working in areas where telephonic hearings are not yet available due to lack of facilities.)

            Discovery of the telephonic capability and growing familiarity with the telephonic ALR process will likely increase its use after a period of time.  But training must play an important role as almost half (46%) of the peace officers that responded to the survey reported they did not feel adequately trained in the standard ALR hearing procedures, 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.  This hearing format is 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 privileges are reinstated.  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.


            The law that allows the parties involved in an ALR hearing to participate by telephone has been shown in Utah to be, at least in part, responsible for decreasing the number of hearings canceled because the arresting officer failed to appear.  Thus, more drivers arrested for impaired or intoxicated driving have lost driving privileges (rather than having driving licenses returned due to the absence of the arresting officer from the ALR hearing), 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 [1] 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.

+        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., which 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:

+        State officials should stress the importance of administrative license action hearings to command officers at all law enforcement agencies.  LEA command officers should encourage officers who have made impaired driving arrests to attend any related 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 law enforcement officers during a hearing, dealing with defense attorneys, the proper way to object to inappropriate issues 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 made 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 an ALR 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. 

[1]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.