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Effect of License Suspension in Ohio
This section evaluated the impact of driver license suspension in Ohio before the new laws and shows how the application of license suspension increased under the ALS law.
Though up to 75% of DUI offenders continue to drive while suspended, this does not mean that license suspension ineffectively reduces recidivism and crash involvement of these high-risk drivers. In a survey of these drivers (Ross, & Gonzales, 1988), they reported driving less and more carefully. This was borne out by the lower recidivism rates demonstrated in studies comparing license suspension with other DUI sanctions (Nichols, & Ross, 1989; Peck, Sadler, & Perrine, 1985). Therefore, suspension apparently reduces the risk to the public presented by these offenders. Nonetheless, there is a potentially important limitation to this penalty. Many suspended drivers may be uninsured since they must demonstrate financial responsibilityan expensive process given that insurance companies normally increase premiums for DUI driversto have the license restored.
An ALS law is effective with individual offenders only if license suspension reduces driving risk. In the present study, the extent of reduction in the driving risk due to license suspension was determined by comparing the DUI, traffic citation rates, and crash frequencies for two groups of DUI offenders. The first group comprised those suspended for an offense, and the second group comprised those not suspended (or those reinstated) for an offense. At any given time in Ohio and other states, thousands of motorists have recent (within last 5 years) DUIs on their records. Some are suspended, many of whom have chosen not to reinstate their driving permits even though they are eligible to do so (Voas & Tippetts, 1994). Several thousand offenders also hold valid licenses, either because they avoided license suspension or because they paid the fees and increased insurance cost to have their licenses reinstated.
In Ohio (as in other States), before implementing ALS laws, traffic courts had the principal authority to suspend the drivers license. Drivers were given a ticket on which they could drive until the court acted. The court established the length of license sanction following case disposition and notified the BMV, and then they did the administrative work to suspend the licenses. The suspension period during the 3 years before the ALS law was as follows: for first-time offenders, 90 days; for a second- or third-time offenders, 1 year.
Because license suspension depended upon court action, there was considerable delay between arrest for a DUI offense and implementation of the suspension sanction. Further, a sizeable portion of convicted offenders avoided license suspension through court programs that applied treatment and other sanctions instead of license suspension. The upper two lines of Figure II-1 illustrates the effect of using license suspension as a court sanction in Ohio for the 3 years (September 1, 1990 to August 31, 1993) before implementing the ALS law. This figure also displays the proportion of offenders who were not suspended by the end of each month following the day of their arrest for DUI. The Figure was constructed by determining the date of arrest for each person apprehended for DUI or an implied consent refusal for the 3 years (September 1990 to August 30, 1993). Then, the date upon which a corresponding license suspension was recorded was ascertained. The licenses of DUI offenders were picked up by the officers and forwarded to the court.
Figure II-2 indicates that some cases proceeded to trial within a month of the arrest date; however, by the sixth month, just over half of the first offenders had received a suspension. Even after 24 months, four in ten of these offenders had not received a suspension. Apparently, some courts chose not to suspend first offenders as other sanctions were being imposed (e.g., Ohio has a 3-day mandatory jail sentence for first offenders). In some cases, limited driving privileges were made a part of the probation requirements, even when no suspension was ordered. Since only those cases in which the driver is ultimately convicted of the offense are recorded on the driving record, those cases receiving limited licenses but not convicted of DUI do not appear in this data set.
Suspensions were more likely for second offenders of whom eight in ten received their suspension within 6 months. Even here, however, 15% of the arrested offenders avoided suspension during the 2 years following their arrest for DUI. Thus, license suspension was not applied to a significant segment of those apprehended for impaired driving between July 1990 and July 1993. Moreover, for most DUI offenders who were ultimately suspended, there was a significant delay of 1 to 6 months from the date of arrest to the date on which the suspension became effective.
First DUI offenders were only suspended for 90 days; nonetheless, many of them did not reinstate their licenses when eligible. Consequently, the actual mean length of suspension was 862 days over 2 years. The significance of imposing even the relatively short 90-day suspension on first offenders is shown in Figure II-2 and Table II-1. In the 2 years following their arrest, first offenders receiving a suspension had fewer DUIs than first offenders not receiving a suspension. Thus, failure to suspend the licenses of first DUI offenders increased the likelihood that they would become second offenders.
The drivers falling within these two groupssuspended and unsuspendedare heterogeneous. Self-selection factors also play a significant role in the forming of group membership. Nonetheless, comparing the offenses and crash rates of the two groups does provide the State with a measure of the effectiveness of its VA laws and their application in the two counties studied. Further, this information provides a tool to support allocating resources to license suspension enforcement and vehicle immobilization and impoundment programs.
A subset of Ohios driving records of licensed drivers convicted of a DUI offense between July 1, 1990, and July 1, 1993, was used to analyze the overall effectiveness of license suspension in Ohio before the ALS law was implemented. The analysis included only the offenses and crashes of drivers within 3 years of their index DUI offense. For this study, drivers were entered into the analysis file in the month in which they had their first DUI. Each month, all drivers in the analysis file were classified into one of two groups depending on whether they were suspended or unsuspended (fully licensed) during that month. When the license status changed, the driver was moved to the opposite group in the following month.
The percentage of each license status groupsuspended and unsuspendedcommitting a DUI or a moving traffic offense or being involved in a crash during each month was determined. As the number of license record entries varied based on the prior driving record, offenders in the two groups were analyzed separately by the number of prior DUI offenses. The three DUI subgroups were those with one, with two, and with three or more prior DUIs. The period from July 1, 1990, to July 1,1993, provided 36 paired monthly samples for licensed versus suspended drivers for each of the three DUI subgroups. These data where analyzed using a paired sample test for each of the three dependent variables: DUI offenses, moving traffic offenses, and crashes. The use of the paired sample test controlled for seasonal and long-term linear trends in the data.
Figure II-3 and Table II-2 present the results of the comparison of the monthly percentage of drivers in the licensed and suspended groups committing a DUI or implied consent offense. The results are presented separately by number of priors. As can be seen, the average monthly rate of DUI offenses for the suspended first, second, and third offenders is significantly (p<.001) below that of the DUI offenders who have full driving privileges. The mean reduction in percentage of offenses (Table II-1) is 32% to 43% of the mean level of offense for the licensed offenders. As would be expected, the average monthly percentage of DUI or implied consent offenses is greater for the groups with more DUIs on their records.
Figure II-4 shows the moving violation rates for the suspended compared to the fully licensed DUI offenders and Table II-3 provides the results of the analysis of these data. As with DUI offenses, the suspended offenders have a smaller (p<.001) average monthly proportion of moving violations. They also have a smaller (p<.001) proportion of drivers involved in crashes as shown in Figure II-5 and Table II-4.
Figures II-3, II-4, and II-5 demonstrate that despite the fact DUI offenders continue to drive while suspended, they present a lower risk to the public than if they are allowed to retain their full driving privileges. The effect is most marked, as should be expected, for impaired driving offenses; however, the reduction in DWSs also appears to result in fewer moving violations and crashes. The reduction in crashes, while not as large as for DUI offenses, is substantial, ranging from a fourth to a third. Given this apparent safety benefit, it would seem to be important to ensure that this sanction is applied uniformly to all DUI offenders.
The Ohio ALS law is designed to reduce the lag in applying a license suspension by moving the suspension date forward to the day of arrest. It is also intended to make the suspension more certain by avoiding problems in Court prosecution and recordkeeping that can result in a failure to suspend the license of a DUI offender. The Ohio ALS law dramatically accomplished this purpose is clearly shown in the lower two lines of Figure II-1. These two lines show the proportion of drivers convicted of first and multiple DUI offenses who remained unsuspended following their arrest after the ALS law was implemented in September 1993. During this "after" period, 95% of the arrested first and multiple offenders were suspended on the day of their arrest and 99% were suspended within 6 months of their arrest. Particularly interesting in these "after" ALS law curves is the suspension probability, which is essentially the same for first and repeat DUI offenders. Thus, after September 1993, the probability of being suspended if one were arrested for drunk driving was significantly increased, and the date of suspension was moved closer to the day of arrest. Section III evaluates the impact on this change in the timing and assurance of a license suspension.