Driving While Suspended

Cover Page

Technical Report

Technical Summary


List of Tables


Study Sites

Observational Study

Focus Group Research



The perceived probability of being arrested for driving under suspension was lower among Milwaukee participants than among New Jersey participants. Most Milwaukee participants believed that the police do not stop vehicles unless the driver gives them a reason. One said that the biggest risk is getting into a crash that is not your fault. One participant described being nervous even when driving with his occupational license. After being hit from behind by another driver, he told the driver, "This is your lucky day, buddy. Let's just forget about it."

Although many were nervous when they drove illegally, they reasoned that if they were careful, they probably would not get caught. Few were aware of the penalties for driving while suspended for OWI. Nearly all Milwaukee participants had, at least occasionally, assumed the risks of detection for driving while suspended or beyond the terms of their occupational license. None had been caught.

Text Box: An Unrepentant Milwaukee Driver

A 31 year-old Milwaukee man was arrested while changing a flat tire.  He claimed he passed a field sobriety test, but he blew a .18 on the breath test.  He got into a scuffle with the police officer, whom he alleged shoved him while he tried to answer a call on his cell phone, and started legal action against the police for assaulting him.  A self-employed construction contractor, he boasted that he had not bothered to get an occupational permit and continued to drive just as before.  He said, “I have no fear of being arrested for driving while suspended because there is practically no chance that I would be stopped in one of my work trucks.”

In contrast, most New Jersey participants perceived that it is very risky to drive while under suspension for DWI. There was general agreement that they would be more likely than not to be arrested if they continued their normal driving through their suspension. One participant, who had been convicted of driving while suspended for DWI, said that she would not even risk turning the motor over in the driveway to keep the battery from going flat. Several expressed the belief that the police target persons who are convicted of DWI. One said, "You have to understand that many of us live in small towns where we are known to local police." Another commented that most police have computers that enable them to check driving records of cars they are following. Members of one focus group were shocked when a teenaged participant admitted that she had occasionally driven while suspended.

Most New Jersey participants also were well aware of the consequences of getting caught - an additional two years of suspension and the possibility of jail time. Even the few who thought there was only a slight probability of getting caught were deterred from driving by the severity of the consequences.

The reality in New Jersey may match the perception. Three participants had been arrested for driving while suspended for DWI. One was arrested while suspended for her current DWI when she drove her landlord's car a couple of blocks. She thought she would be safe in someone else's car, but a neighborhood patrol officer recognized her and knew she had been suspended. As a result of this incident, her suspension was extended until 2003. Two other participants were convicted for driving while suspended for previous DWI convictions occurring more than 10 years prior to the current offense.

Although most members of the New Jersey groups perceived the risks and consequences to be great, many were not deterred entirely from driving. With coaxing by the moderator, it was determined that four of seven participants in one group, and five of seven in another group, had driven at some point while under their current suspension. (No count was taken in the third group.) Two participants even admitted to having driven after drinking during their current suspension. The three drivers under 21 years of age were among those who had driven during their suspension.

In summary, New Jersey participants were generally more fearful about driving while under suspension than participants in Milwaukee. The proportion of participants who drove illegally in the two groups, however, was not dramatically different. It was difficult to discern whether participants in the two sites differed in terms of the frequency with which they drove while suspended. Three of the five Milwaukee participants who did not get an occupational license admitted to occasional driving; of 14 New Jersey participants who were asked directly if they drove while suspended, nine admitted that they had done so on at least one occasion. With the exception of one Milwaukee driver, who basically ignored his suspension, the reported frequency of illegal driving (that is, either outside the restrictions of the occupational license or with a suspended license) was limited in both sites.

Text Box: Bergen County Subject Arrested for
Driving While Suspended for DWI

A 53 year-old woman, admittedly an alcoholic, was arrested for DWI while parking her car across the street from her apartment.  She believed the officer followed her home from the neighborhood liquor store.  She said she was definitely “pie-eyed” at the time.  She was taken to the emergency room at a nearby hospital and discharged about five hours later.  A few weeks into her suspension, she made the mistake of accepting a neighbor's offer to borrow his car to go grocery shopping.  She was caught almost immediately and her license was suspended for an additional two years.  Since then, she had been afraid even to start her car to keep her battery charged.  A registered nurse at a distant hospital, she changed her work schedule to work long shifts on three consecutive days, staying at the hospital between shifts.  As she lived alone, she was totally reliant on neighbors for transportation.