Effectiveness Of The Ohio Vehicle Action And Administrative License Suspension Laws
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A. Background
This is the fourth in a series of reports on investigations of the laws that target the vehicles of driving-under-the-influence (DUI) offenders in an effort to reduce impaired driving, particularly while their drivers’ licenses are suspended. Driving while suspended (DWS) by DUI offenders has become a major problem as more and more of these drivers fail to reinstate their licenses when they become eligible to do so. This has led to an increased interest in using vehicle sanctions as a way to deter or control the driving of DUI offenders. The first report covered the results of a survey on the use of impoundment and forfeiture laws by the states. The second report evaluated license plate sticker laws in the States of Washington and Oregon. The third report evaluated a vehicle impoundment law in California. This report evaluates the simultaneous implementation of an administrative license suspension (ALS)(1) law and a vehicle immobilization law in Ohio.

(1) The term "ALR" is typically used to describe this type of law although Ohio, like most states, suspends (ALS) rather than revokes the drivers’ license. The Ohio term "ALS" is used in this report.

Ohio was selected for this study because it simultaneously strengthened two programs in September 1993 to help curb drinking and driving. The first program strengthened an existing immobilization law: vehicles were immobilized for 90 days for second DUI offenders and 180 days for third DUI offenders. In addition to those immobilization penalties for DUI offenders, the vehicles of individuals apprehended for DWS were immobilized for 1 to 2 months. The second program applied the ALS law more stringently by providing for immediate license suspension on the day of arrest for all DUI offenders.

The simultaneous implementation of these two laws presented both an evaluative challenge and an evaluative opportunity. The challenge was to determine an analytic procedure that could separate the effects of these two laws. The simultaneous implementation was also an opportunity to evaluate the effects of both the ALS law and the immobilization law. This resulted in a three-phase study. The first phase analyzed the historical effects of the license suspension program that was in place before initiation of the new laws. The second phase evaluated the impact of the ALS law, and the third phase evaluated the vehicle immobilization law in two large suburban counties in Ohio.

B. Research Design and Analysis
Ohio’s ALS and immobilization laws were both implemented on September 1, 1993. To evaluate these two pieces of legislation, the full driving record of every operator with a DUI or implied consent conviction between September 1, 1990, and August 31, 1995, was obtained from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ (BMV) driver files. This provided a 5-year file of 43,718 drivers’ records with 58,490 DUI offenses for analysis: 3 years before and 2 years after implementation of the ALS and immobilization laws. These driving records contained the license status of the offender and four types of offenses: DUI and implied consent convictions, DWS convictions, moving traffic violations, and crash involvements. Three basic analyses were conducted:

    1. Offenders were separated into two groups–those with licenses and those with suspended licenses–and monthly offense rates for each group was calculated and compared across months by paired sample tests.

    2. Tarone-Ware and Cox Regression Survival Analyses were used for studies to compare recidivism of offenders before and after the application of the new laws.

    3. A time series analysis was conducted to detect changes in offense rates before and after implementation of the new laws.

C. Effectiveness of Traditional License Suspension Program
Before implementing the new laws in September 1993, Ohio’s laws provided for a typical suspension sanctioning program based on court—conviction information forwarded to the BMV. Comparing the date of suspension with the date of apprehension showed that suspension action was frequently delayed, often up to 4 months. Further, 40% of first offenders and 15% of multiple offenders were not suspended within 2 years of their offense. The relatively low rate of suspension actions for first offenders appeared to be related to the Ohio mandatory 3-day jail sentence, which became the basis for the locally developed weekend intervention program. Some courts used this to allow limited driving privileges as a probation requirement instead of traditional license suspension through the BMV. A comparison of the mean monthly offense rates for suspended offenders compared to fully licensed first offenders demonstrated that those who were suspended had significantly lower DUI, moving violation, and crash rates during the 36 months before initiation of the new laws. DUI rates were between 32% and 43% lower (from 1.80% to 1.12% for those with one prior DUI; from 2.95% to 1.67% for those with two prior DUIs; from 4.37% to 2.98% for those with three or more prior DUIs), and crash rates were 24% to 35% lower (from 1.30% to 0.99% for those with one prior DUI; from 1.29% to 0.93% for those with two prior DUIs, from 1.23% to 0.80% for those with three or more prior DUIs) for suspended offenders compared to fully licensed offenders.

D. Effect of the ALS Law
Ohio’s ALS law has several strong features. First, it moves the date of suspension forward to the day of arrest so that there is an immediate loss of the driver’s license subject to a hearing within 5 days. Second, it provides for significant additional suspension time for refusal of the breath test. First offenders who refuse a breath test receive a 1-year suspension compared to a 90-day suspension for having a BAC greater than the .10 limit. Second offenders who refuse a breath test receive a 2-year suspension instead of a 1-year suspension for having a BAC greater than the .10 limit. Finally, in separate legislation but concurrent with the implementation of the ALS law, a provision was made to allow the courts to add suspension time on top of the ALS suspension.

Implementation of the ALS law in September 1993 significantly changed the timing and comprehensiveness of the imposition of the license suspension penalty. After implementation of the ALS law, 95% of both first and second offenders received the license sanction within a few days of their arrest.

To determine the effect of immediate penalty and the increased comprehensiveness of its application, recidivism rates were compared for first and multiple offenders, beginning with the date of arrest before (September 1990 through August 1993) and after (September 1993 through August 1995) implementation of the ALS law. Before the law, 15% of the first offenders received a second DUI within 24 months of their arrest. After the law, only 5% of the first offenders received a DUI within 24 months of their arrest.

For multiple offenders, the corresponding recidivism levels were 25% before and 7% after the law. Reductions were also observed in the number of offenders with moving violations. Before the ALS law, 20% of the first offenders had a moving violation within 24 months of their arrest compared to only 9% after implementation of the ALS law. For multiple offenders, the corresponding figures were 28% and 15%, respectively. Finally, and most significantly, a reduction in crash frequency was observed for both first and multiple offenders. Before the law, 12% of first offenders and 14% of repeat offenders were involved in a crash within 2 years of their DUI offense. After September 1993, only 5% of first offenders and 7% of repeat offenders were involved in a crash during that period.

A study was conducted of those in the general driving public who were arrested for a DUI for the first time. These drivers were not subject to license suspension or vehicle immobilization before their arrest. The number of such first-time arrests and convictions should reflect (1) the level of DUI enforcement and (2) the rate of DUI convictions or the general deterrent effect of the ALS law. The number of such first-time DUI convictions declined slowly over the 5 years (September 1990 to September 1995) but long-term trend was not affected by the implementation of the ALS and immobilization laws in September 1993. This suggests that the reductions in recidivism noted following that date were not due to the level of DUI enforcement or conviction rate. No conclusion regarding the general deterrent effect is possible because the data for this study included only the driving records of individuals with DUI offenses.

E. Effectiveness of Immobilization or "Vehicle Action" Law
The Ohio Immobilization or "Vehicle Action" (VA)(2) law–which governs both vehicle impoundment and vehicle immobilization and license plate confiscation–was implemented on September 1, 1993, to be applied to multiple DUI offenders or DWS offenders who have been suspended for a DUI charge. Other license suspensions imposed by the BMV are also eligible for a sanction; however, these were not evaluated in this study.

(2) In Ohio, the law is commonly referred to as the "immobilization" law, although it provided for vehicle impoundment, license plate confiscation, and vehicle immobilization. For brevity, it will be referred to as the Vehicle Action (VA) law in this report.

In some locations (e.g., Hamilton County, Cincinnati), the vehicle remains in the impoundment lot for the total length of the immobilization period. In other locations (e.g., Franklin County, Columbus), the vehicle may be released from the impoundment lot and immobilized with a club device on the offender’s property. In these cases, the penalties imposed upon offenders–either pretrial or posttrial–can be impoundment only or a combination of impoundment followed by immobilization.

Several elements of the law contribute to the overall impact of the legislation on DUI offenders.

  • Substantial vehicle immobilization (or impoundment): 30 days for the first and 60 days for the second DWS offenses, and 90 days for the second and 180 days for the third DUI offense.
  • Vehicle forfeiture penalty for the third DWS offense and the fourth DUI offense.
  • Immediate seizure of the vehicle upon arrest and holding the vehicle pending a hearing that must be held within 5 days of seizure.
  • Seizure of vehicle plates upon conviction. The plates are forwarded to the BMV and destroyed.
  • Prohibiting the sale (an amendment to the law) of the "offending" vehicle during the time between arrest and trial. Violators are blocked from registering another vehicle for 2 years.
  • A $100 immobilization fee, which is collected by the BMV and reimbursed to the police agency, the city, or the county government to help offset the cost of implementing the program.

The specific deterrent effect of the VA law was evaluated in two large urban counties–Franklin County and Hamilton County–which presented contrasting methods of implementing the law. With minor exceptions, Hamilton County impounded offenders’ vehicles for the full period provided by the law, and Franklin County transferred a majority of vehicles from a storage lot to immobilization on the offenders’ property after an initial period of impoundment. Vehicle sanctions were not imposed on 25% to 50% of the eligible offenders in both counties, and DWS and DUI offenses were recorded on each offender’s driving record. Therefore, it was possible to construct comparison groups to determine the effect of the temporary vehicle loss. Neither county had enough offenders whose vehicles were forfeited to permit an analysis.

1. Franklin County Results
The court-based immobilization coordinator in Franklin County provided data on the impoundment and immobilization periods. The driving records of 2,784 offenders eligible to receive these penalties between September 1,1993, and August 31, 1995, were analyzed to determine the effect of vehicle actions on DUI and DWS recidivism. Four periods were considered: the 30, 60, 90, and 180 days during which the offender’s vehicle was impounded or immobilized and up to 23 months following return of the vehicle. The driving records of eligible offenders who received the vehicle penalties were compared with offenders who were eligible but did not receive a vehicle sanction. Both groups received the same driver’s license and vehicle sanctions. In Franklin County, about one in four of the eligible offenders received the sanction generally losing access to the vehicle for the full time (30 to 180 days) provided by the law.

  • DUI and DWS offenses of suspended drinking drivers during impoundment/immobilization. DUI offenders as a group had a lower frequency of DUI and DWS offenses while their vehicles were sanctioned–that is, the vehicles were unavailable to them–than did comparable offenders who did not have their vehicles sanctioned. While the vehicles they were driving when arrested were inaccessible to them, the offense rates of the 820 DUIs with impounded vehicles were reduced: 65% (p=.002) for DWS offenses and 58% (p=.009) for DUI offenses, compared to similar offenders with no vehicle action.
  • DUI and DWS offenses of drinking drivers after the sanction. The frequency of DUI and DWS offenses was lower for the combined group of sanctioned offenders for up to 23 months after release of their vehicles from impoundment or immobilization.(3) The DUI offense rate was reduced by 35% (p=.014) and the DWS rate by 42% (p=.028).

(3) Some vehicles in both counties were not returned because they were abandoned by their owners. The end of the specified sanction period was used to compare the after-sanction period with the during-sanction period.

2. Hamilton County Results
In Hamilton County, the records of 3,582 DUI and DWS offenders eligible for a vehicle sanction between September 1, 1993, and August 31, 1995, were divided into two groups. One group had received the impoundment penalty, and one group had not. As in Franklin County, two periods were considered: (1) the during-sanction period, that is, while the vehicle was impounded and (2) after-sanction period, that is, after the vehicle was returned or at the end of the sanction period.

  • DUI and DWS offenses of suspended drinking drivers during impoundment. DUI and DWS offenses were 60% lower (p=.001) among the 880 offenders whose vehicles were impounded during the sanction period than comparable offenders whose vehicles were not impounded.
  • DUI and DWS offenses of drinking drivers after the sanction. Sanctioned offenders had 56% fewer (p=.001) DUI and 39% fewer DWS offenses (p=.047) following the return of their vehicles’ than did comparable offenders whose vehicles were not sanctioned.

F. Major Findings
Overall, there were three major findings in this study:

    1. License suspension compared to full license privileges for DUI offenders was found to reduce the rate of DUI offenses, moving violations, and crashes. DUI rates were 38% to 43% lower and crash rates were 24% to 35% lower for offenders whose licenses were suspended compared to offenders who had full license privileges.

    2. Ohio’s ALS law resulted in an earlier license suspension and a significant increase in the number of offenders receiving license suspension. Overall, once the license suspension law was in place, 95% of both first and multiple DUI offenders received a license action within a few days after their arrest.

    3. A significant portion of the reduction in offense and crash rates for multiple DUI offenders may be attributed to the vehicle sanctions. Though shorter than the license suspension period (90 days for second offenders and 180 days for third offenders), these sanctions were found to reduce recidivism while vehicles were impounded or immobilized by as much as 50% to 60%. However, in both counties, only 30% to 50% of the multiple offenders received vehicle sanctions. The extent of use elsewhere in the State is unknown. The data from Franklin and Hamilton Counties, however, indicate that a more significant reduction in multiple offender recidivism could be achieved if the VA law were applied to all offenders as specified in the law.

G. General Recommendations

    1. License suspension effectively reduces offenses and crashes among convicted DUIs. It should be applied as broadly as possible to all drivers convicted of driving while impaired.

    2. Immediately after an arrest for a DUI is a high-risk period for impaired driving. Therefore, the period between an arrest and a license suspension should be minimized.

    3. ALS is an important way to achieve recommendations 1 and 2. An effective ALS law should have two important features.

    • The suspension should begin as soon as possible after an apprehension.
    • The suspension period for a breath-test refusal should be considerably longer than for a breath-test that is greater than th
      e limit.

    4. Vehicle impoundment and immobilization greatly enhance the effectiveness of license suspension and should be applied to multiple offenders and those who drive while suspended because of a DUI offense. To be most effective, vehicle impoundment and immobilization should:

    • be initiated at the time of arrest when the vehicle is normally taken into custody to avoid a transfer of title or a situation where the police must search for the vehicle to apply the sanction after a court hearing; and
    • provide for holding a vehicle belonging to a nonoffender owner who knew or should have known that the driver was unlicensed (up to half of the offenders drive vehicles belonging to a third party at the time of their arrest), and, the offender found driving that vehicle again, the nonoffender owner should pay storage and towing costs and sign a quit claim deed forfeiting the vehicle to the local government.

H. Summary Description of the Implementation of Ohio Vehicle Action Law (Appendix A)

    1. Introduction
    The main body of this report evaluates the effect of Ohio’s VA law on recidivism of DWS and DUI offenders. This evaluation indicates that impounding or immobilizing the vehicles of offenders reduces DUI and DWS recidivism both while vehicles are held by the state and, to a lesser extent, after vehicles are returned to the owners. Appendix A provides a more detailed description of the VA law–how it was applied in Hamilton and Franklin Counties–and recommendations for implementing the laws growing out of the Ohio experience.

    Implementation of the VA law varied between the two counties selected for study. In Hamilton County, vehicles were impounded for the full period provided by the law. In Franklin County, some offenders experienced a short period of impoundment after which the vehicle was immobilized on their property; others had their vehicles impounded for the full period provided by law. In both counties, the law was not uniformly applied to all eligible offenders for several reasons, some of which are discussed in the course of this study.

    2. Implementation Issues
    Nonoffender owners.
    Several issues arose for the implementation of the VA law in Franklin and Hamilton Counties. The law originally provided for immediately seizing and immobilizing vehicles owned by nonoffenders. Further, if it could be demonstrated that the owner knew or should have known that the offender was not licensed, yet gave the offender permission to use the vehicle, the law provided for impoundment of the vehicle’s plates. Ultimately, the law’s seizure provision for nonoffender owners was not enforceable because it was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court. A subsequent Ohio Supreme Court ruling upheld the District Court’s decision but did not prohibit immobilization or forfeiture after conviction of the offender.

    Variations in application of the law. At the time of arrest, officers in some jurisdictions have the discretion to charge offenders under several local or State codes. Therefore, officers can charge an offender under a code that does not require the time-consuming procedure of towing and impounding that is required under the VA law. Further, delays in entering offenses on driving records may cause some eligible multiple offenders to be missed. Also, prosecutors sometimes reduce or dismiss cases to ease caseloads. Some prosecutors and judges interpret nonoffender owner involvement very narrowly while others do not.

    Workload issues. The VA law creates extra work for those in law enforcement and vehicle administration positions. Police officers, for example, do a significant amount of extra work to seize and impound and then, later, club and unclub vehicles. Tracking the status of vehicles on "immobilization hold" in the police impound lots is also time-consuming, though the $100 in immobilization fee helps to offset the cost of the extra personnel hours needed to implement the law. Another example is the court’s staff. Not only are the prosecutors, bailiffs, and judges affected because immobilization cases require additional courtroom time for hearings, but also all court staff as these hearings create additional paperwork. Checking the computerized driver record system is also time-consuming. The BMV staff also does additional work to collect and disburse the $100 in immobilization fee. An "immobilization coordinator," such as the one in Franklin County, can help with some of the administrative work. For example, a coordinator can track the status of offenders and their vehicles and communicate with the various police departments that carry out court orders on immobilization. Without such a coordinator, much of the additional paperwork falls to the clerks of courts and the staff in the police departments.

    Communication issues. The logistics of implementing a VA law such as Ohio’s can be cumbersome and confusing. The lines of communication and the flow of paperwork must be clearly defined. Also valuable are a task force or committee of key participants, a court-based immobilization coordinator or an assigned immobilization police officer, standardized forms, and a technical handbook.

    Vehicle storage. The abandonment of impounded vehicles of low dollar value was a problem for both privately owned and police-operated impoundment lots in both counties. This problem was somewhat alleviated when pretrial or posttrial immobilization was allowed in Franklin County. Also helpful was an amendment that shortened the time from 60 to 20 days for vehicle forfeiture if an owner failed to retrieve a vehicle.

    3. Recommendations for Implementation of Vehicle Sanction Laws

    • Vehicle sanction laws should include provisions for seizing the vehicle at time of arrest and holding it subject to a hearing and trial. This eliminates two problems–locating the vehicle later and disposing of the vehicle by the owner before the trial. The court can provide credit for the time the vehicle was impounded before the trial.
    • Vehicle plates should be impounded and the vehicle should be either impounded or immobilized to help ensure that the vehicle will not be moved during the sanction period. A simpler system in which only plates would be impounded, rather than the vehicle, merits study.
    • The offender should be charged a fee to cover the extra work done by the police to immobilize the vehicle and by the courts to do the record keeping associated with vehicle immobilization.
    • Provisions should be made for expedited notice of vehicle seizure to nonoffender owners. This should be a requirement if the vehicles of nonoffender owners who knew or should have known that the offender was unlicensed are to be impounded.
    • Release of a vehicle to a nonoffender owner should be based on the signing of a quit claim that allows the vehicle to be forfeited to the State if the owner permits the offender to drive it again before his or her license is reinstated.
    • Provisions should be made for recording the impoundment and immobilization dates of the vehicle on the offender’s driving record so that the effectiveness of these laws can better be evaluated.
    • Immobilization and impoundment appear to be equally effective in reducing recidivism. The choice between these two methods appears to depend principally on the administrative and cost problems faced by the local government:
    • When large city or county impound lots are available, impounding may be the best sanction since towing and holding vehicles in a single location generally involves the least administrative complexity.
    • When holding facilities are limited, immobilization on the offender’s property may be the least expensive approach for the locality despite the additional administrative burden of managing the transfer of the vehicle.
    • The offender’s driver license status and record of prior offenses must be readily and easily available to police officers so they can determine whether to seize a vehicle at the time of arrest.
    • Only some offenders who are eligible for a vehicle sanction receive a penalty. Therefore, officials in each locality should determine whether the law is being applied uniformly at all levels of the system in their jurisdictions.
    • States implementing VA laws should establish rules in motor vehicle departments to prevent owners from transferring titles to their vehicles to avoid the penalty.
    • Motor vehicle department registration blocks for failure to pay fees should be placed on the offender as well as the vehicle owner.
    • Jurisdictions implementing VA laws should create clear and direct lines of communication and paperflow using committees of key players, standard forms, and a technical handbook.

    This report contains five sections. Section 1 provides the background for this study and an overview of the Ohio administrative license suspension and vehicle action laws. Section II focuses on the importance of license suspension before the new law and shows how the ALS law increased the use of this sanction. Section III describes a comparison of DUI recidivism and moving violation rates and crashes of DUI before and after the ALS law’s implementation in September 1993. Section IV addresses the effectiveness of different implementations of the VA law by two large urban counties in Ohio–Franklin (Columbus) and Hamilton (Cincinnati). Finally, Section V discusses the significance and limitations of the results of the studies and the implications of these findings.

    Supplementing this report are several informative and practical appendices that jurisdictions can use as guides to implement vehicle action programs. Appendix A describes the features of the VA law in Ohio in detail and the amendments that were later needed for smoother operations at the local level and for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. This appendix also discusses other issues arising from implementation of the law including variations in application of the law, lines of communication, abandoned vehicles, increased workload, and public awareness. Case flow charts are included for each county to illustrate the logistics required for the impoundment and/or immobilization of vehicles when the order must come from a court. Table A-3 contrasts the different implementation procedures used in Franklin and Hamilton Counties when initiating their vehicle action programs. Other appendices include immobilization program forms (Appendix B), court entry forms (Appendix C), and informational brochures and materials (Appendices D and E.)