U.S Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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

CHAPTER 1 - Introduction

          Difficulties in implementing administrative driver license revocation and suspension laws are a common problem in many states, which has inhibited the use of such laws.  This project studied a unique solution, allowing telephonic testimony at administrative hearings in Utah, as a remedy to a common problem, the failure of law enforcement officers to appear at administrative license hearings.  This problem and solution, as well as others surrounding the implementation of the administrative license revocation laws within the state of Utah, are documented in this final report. 


            Administrative license revocation (ALR) or administrative license suspension (ALS) are actions that are controlled by a state driver licensing agency.   Usually when states adopt ALR or ALS [2] laws, provisions are made in the statutes for two separate paths for impaired driving offenses.  The first, more traditional, path is through the court system and, in addition to license sanctions, carries other sanctions such as fines, treatment and jail.  The second path (ALR/ALS) is administrative in nature and is usually administered by the state driver licensing agency.  The purpose of ALR/ALS is to allow the suspension or revocation of driving privileges through administrative actions against those drivers at or above the illegal limit for blood or breath alcohol concentration, or who refuse to submit to a chemical test.  This is typically a more expeditious route, allowing state agencies to remove unsafe drivers from the roadways and to administer license sanctions faster, than the judicial proceedings. 

            As of April 2002, forty states plus the District of Columbia had implemented ALR/ALS laws.  Typically following an arrest for a DUI/DWI [3] -related offense, the driver's license is suspended, revoked or denied for a set period of time that, by state statute, begins a set number of days from the arrest date.  Usually the license of the driver arrested for a DUI/DWI offense is taken at the scene, and the driver is given a temporary license for the interim period, or the copy of the citation given to the driver serves as a temporary license until the suspension or revocation period begins.  However, the driver may request a hearing to contest the impending loss of license within that interim period of time.  In some states, even when the license suspension or revocation is not contested or is upheld, the driver may request a temporary, restricted, or hardship license that will allow the person to drive to and from specific destinations only, such as work or school.

            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.  An example was given in our report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Problems and Solutions in DWI Enforcement Systems, [4] in which the problems imposed on the enforcement component of the traffic law system in one jurisdiction had become so severe that enforcement of the ALR law had ceased altogether.  In that report, we identified three major types of such problems under the general heading Failure to Uphold Administrative Sanctions, and also listed several specific “failures” leading to each of these types of problems.  These problems were:  1) the law enforcement officer fails to appear at the administrative hearing, or fails to testify effectively; 2) non-pertinent issues are addressed at hearings; and 3) the hearing officer arrives at an erroneous judgment.  Several possible solutions were suggested for each failure.  That research was used as a point of departure for this project.

            During the earlier project, problems were identified in regards to enforcing ALR laws and in suspending or revoking the driver license, such as the following examples.

+        Conflicts in scheduling and continuance of hearings that make it difficult for law enforcement officers to attend ALR hearings.

+        Short lag time between officer notification of the hearing and its conduct.

+        Officers appearing without legal representation and feeling overmatched by the defense attorneys.

+        Hearings being used for discovery and thus jeopardizing pursuit of the criminal offense.

+        Essentially irrelevant technicalities being used as devices to rescind suspensions.

Discussions were held on successful system approaches to overcome problems in implementing and maintaining ALR.


            The general objective of this project was to identify specific problems in implementing ALR in a jurisdiction and then evaluate remedies to those problems that had been developed and implemented.  Successful system approaches, identified during the course of this project, were recorded as well as difficulties in enforcing ALR.  Specific project objectives were to:

+        identify a site with a problem enforcing and implementing its ALR law,

+        recruit that site to participate in the study,

+        develop strategies or report existing strategies for resolving those problems,

+        implement strategies or report on the implementation and maintenance of existing strategies that deal with the problems,

+        evaluate the strategies through a process evaluation, and

+        present the results of the efforts in a final report that would be useful to practitioners in the field.


            The state of Utah was identified as a site that was developing specific procedures for dealing with problems resulting from implementing the ALR law.  For example, evidence was gathered that a significant number of law enforcement officers were failing to appear at the administrative driver license hearings.  This is a problem that is prevalent across the country.  The passage of a law allowing parties involved in an ALR hearing to participate by telephone [5] was implemented in Utah in September 2000 (see Appendix A).  This remedy is unique and is one that can readily be replicated by other states that have the same problem.

            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 22 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 state level officials mentioned above.  Methods employed to obtain pertinent information included interviews, focus groups, data from State level driver license record databases, and information from 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 next chapter contains a description of the project site and the problems that Utah state officials faced in implementing ALR.  Chapter 3 presents the approach followed while conducting the evaluation.  The solution and the results of implementing the solution, as far as this assessment can determine, are provided in Chapter 4 along with our conclusions and recommendations.  Pertinent documents referred to in this report appear in the appendices, which are available only in hard copy form.

[2]The use of  ALR/ALS terminology and acronyms vary from state to state depending on the law, but always refer to the administrative confiscation and suspension of a driver's license.  These actions are separate from the licensing actions imposed by the outcome of any judiciary proceedings.

[3]The acronyms DUI and DWI in this report refer to the criminal action of driving a motor vehicle while either 1) “illegal per se” or 2) impaired, under the influence or while intoxicated by either alcohol or drugs.

[4]Jones, RK; Lacey, JH; and Wiliszowski, CH.  (1998). Problems and solutions in DWI enforcement systems. (DOT HS 808 666) Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

[5]The law that was passed in Utah allows for participation in ALR hearings by telephonic, as well as audio-visual means.  However, because current implementation in Utah is by telephone only, we describe and refer to the law in this study as pertaining to telephonic capabilities.