Effectiveness Of The Ohio Vehicle Action And Administrative License Suspension Laws
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This section summarizes previous studies of ALS and VA laws in Ohio.

A. Background

The participants at Traffic Safety Summit II (NHTSA, 1991) recommended investigating methods to make license suspension more effective by reducing the incidences of driving with a suspended license. To date, Incapacitation through license suspension has proven to be the most practical and effective sanction for protecting the driving public. Suspension has been shown to reduce the instances of driving under the influence (DUI) and, more importantly, crashes (Peck, Sadler, & Perrine, 1985). Deterrence through incarceration and fines has largely failed to reduce crash involvement of convicted DUI offenders because the severity of sanctions imposed by the courts on drivers who have not caused serious injury to others is limited (Voas & Lacey, 1990). Rehabilitation through alcohol treatment programs has reduced DUI recidivism and alcohol-related crashes (McKnight & Voas, 1991; Wells-Parker, Bangert-Drowns, McMillen, & Williams, 1995). However, rehabilitation has less impact on overall crash involvement than license suspension that reduces both non-alcohol-related and alcohol-related collisions (Peck, Sadler, and Perrine, 1985). DUI offenders are a greater risk to the public as has been demonstrated by their overinvolvement in alcohol-related crashes (Simpson, Mayhew, & Beirness, 1996; Hedlund, & Fell, 1995). Incapacitation through license suspension remains the most effective way to protect the public against the higher risk presented by those drivers who have been apprehended for DUI.

The effectiveness of license suspension has been limited in two ways. First, a significant proportion of offenders have delayed or avoided suspension when imposed by the courts, either through delaying the adjudication process or through plea bargaining. This has led to the passage of administrative license revocation (ALS) laws that allow arresting officers to confiscate licenses at the time of apprehension. The police then forward them to the motor vehicle department where the process leading to license suspension begins immediately and is generally independent of the outcome of the judicial process.

The enforcement of license suspension is a second problem. Police officers cannot determine if a driver is unlicensed unless they can stop a vehicle and require the driver to present a valid license. Under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, stopping the vehicle is a form of seizure requiring a reasonable suspicion that an offense has been committed. Thus, unlicensed drivers are apprehended only when they commit another offense or are caught at a checkpoint. Partially due to the low probability of apprehension, it has been estimated that up to 75% of DUI offenders drive to some extent while suspended (Hagen, McConnell, & Williams, 1980; Ross & Gonzales, 1988).

Evidence that driving while suspended (DWS) is related to a perceived lack of enforcement comes from research in the States of California (Peck, Sadler, & Perrine, 1985), Oregon and Washington (Voas & Tippetts, 1994), and New Jersey (Voas & McKnight, 1986). Clearly, despite the inconvenience associated with license suspension, at least half of those who receive suspensions for a drunk-driving offense do not reinstate their licenses when they become eligible to do so. In fact, many of them do not reinstate their licenses for some years (Voas & McKnight, 1986; Voas & Tippetts, 1994). Thus, suspended offenders continue to drive with relative impunity. This has led to passage of legislation that attempts to separate the offenders from their vehicles by labeling their license plates or impounding their vehicles, thus preventing or limiting use of the vehicles (Voas, & Lacey, 1990).

B. Prior Studies of Administrative License Suspension

Currently, 39 states have ALS laws to protect the public by suspending the driver’s license of a DUI suspect who refuses the BAC test or provides a test over the State’s BAC limit. Two national studies and several State-level studies demonstrated that these laws have a general deterrent effect on the driving public as a whole, which reduces the number of alcohol-related fatal crashes in states. For example, Zador, Lund, Fields, and Weinberg (1988) found a 9% reduction in the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes during nighttime hours in eight States that had enacted ALS laws. Klein (1989) also reported a decrease of 6% in alcohol-related crashes in 17 States after they implemented ALS laws. Further, Ross (1987) reported a reduction of 5% to 9% (depending on measure used) in nighttime crashes in New Mexico after enactment of an ALS law; similar reductions were found in Minnesota and Delaware. The largest reduction of 41% in alcohol-related fatalities related to introduction of an ALS law was found in Oklahoma (Johnson, 1986).

Though there is a large body of evidence that license suspension effectively reduces recidivism of DUI offenders, less evidence is available on the specific effect of administrative, as compared to court-ordered, suspensions for DUI recidivism. Stewart and Ellingstad (1989) studied the effect of 30-day ALS suspensions on DUI recidivism in three States and found that the law reduced recidivism in two of the three States. More recently, in the Canadian Province of Manitoba, Beirness, Simpson, Mayhew, and Jonah (1997) found that an ALS law providing for a 90-day suspension reduced recidivism from 22.7% to 12.8% over a 4-year period after a DUI offense. They also found that other traffic offenses were reduced and that the period between offense and trial was shortened as the offenders could no longer delay license suspensions by delaying adjudication of their offenses.

C. Prior Studies of Vehicle Sanctions

There is little information on the effectiveness of VA laws for reducing the occurrences of DUI or DWS when suspensions were related to a DUI conviction. A review of the use of these laws (Voas, 1992) indicated that States with impoundment and forfeiture laws have not actively enforced them or have applied them only to a small number of offenders. There are too few cases, however, to permit an adequate evaluation of this approach. It is probable that, in most States with such laws, drivers are unaware that they risk losing their vehicles for a DUI or a DWS conviction. However, the four VA studies of VA laws that have demonstrated positive reductions on offender recidivism are described below.

    1. Oregon and Washington Study. The States of Oregon and Washington enacted the "Zebra Tag" law that allowed law enforcement officers to take the driver’s vehicle registration when apprehending a driver without a valid license. In each case, the driver was given a temporary registration certificate, and a striped ("Zebra") sticker was placed over the annual sticker on the vehicle license plate. This Zebra Tag law was applied to about 7,000 offenders in Washington and 31,000 in Oregon, a large enough number to evaluate both the general and specific deterrent effects of these laws on illegal driving by convicted DUI offenders. In Oregon, suspended DUI offenders at risk of being "tagged" if caught driving were found to have fewer moving violations and accidents under the Zebra Tag law than were reinstated DUI offenders not at risk for DWS or being tagged. In addition, those DWS offenders in Oregon who had their vehicle plates tagged had lower rates of DUI offenses, moving violations, and repeat DWS offenses than similarly eligible offenders whose vehicle plates were not tagged. This suggests that tagging the vehicle had a specific deterrent effect that reduced illegal driving. The law did not have a significant impact in Washington where it was applied to fewer motorists and was not as strongly enforced by the police (Voas & Tippetts, 1994).

    2. Minnesota Study. For several years, a Minnesota law allowed judges to confiscate the license plates of third-time DUI offenders, but relatively few of them used this method for controlling the driving of these offenders (Ross, Simon, & Cleary, 1995). Consequently, in 1991, the law was changed to provide for administrative confiscation of the license plates at the time of arrest. Rodgers (1994) evaluated this law and found that it reduced recidivism over a 2-year period by 50% when comparing third-time DUI violators whose plates were confiscated with similarly eligible offenders who did not lose their plates.

    3. Canadian Province of Manitoba Study. Beirness, Simpson, Mayhew, and Jonah (1997) evaluated a 30-day (first-offense), 60-day (second-offense) DWS vehicle impoundment program and an ALS law in the Canadian Province of Manitoba that went into effect in 1989. The vehicle was seized at the time of apprehension for DWS and held for 30 days. The offender was required to pay the $264 (Canadian) towing and storage fee. They found evidence that DWS offenses during the 30-day impoundment period were reduced from 10.3% before the law to 6.3% after the law. Over the 4-year period following arrest, DWS recidivism was reduced from 40% to 29%. In addition, during the 30-day impoundment period, other traffic offenses were reduced from 8% to 3.2%.

    4. California Study. As part of the current series of NHTSA-funded studies of vehicle sanctions, DeYoung (1997) evaluated the deterrent effect of a 30-day vehicle impoundment law for unlicensed driving implemented in California in January 1995. Drawing records of DWS offenders from four cities (Riverside, San Diego, Stockton, and Santa Barbara), he compared the subsequent driving records of offenders whose vehicles were impounded with similar offenders whose vehicles were not impounded. He found a significant reduction in DWS offenses during the subsequent year for offenders whose vehicles were impounded: 18% for first offenders and 47% for multiple offenders. He also found substantial reductions during the subsequent year in traffic convictions (18% and 22% reductions) and crashes (25% and 38%) for first and repeat offenders whose vehicles were impounded, but these numbers did not quite reach the level of statistical significance.

D. Overview of Current Study

This is the fourth report in a series of NHTSA studies on vehicle action laws for DUI and DWS offenses. The first report was a national review of impoundment and forfeiture laws (Voas, 1992), which indicated that States were not actively enforcing these laws or were applying them only to a limited number of offenders. The second report (described above) studied the effectiveness of Zebra Tag programs in Oregon and Washington. The third evaluated the deterrent effect of California’s impoundment law that went into effect in January 1995 (also described above).

This, the fourth report, covers ALS and VA (vehicle action) legislation in the State of Ohio. In September 1993, Ohio simultaneously implemented two laws to increase the effectiveness of license suspension to reduce the risk posed by those convicted of impaired driving (see Table I-1). The ALS law (1) provided for the immediate suspension of the driver’s license of a driver apprehended for DUI. The suspension began on the day of arrest and continued for 6 months for first offenders and 1 to 3 years for multiple offenders. The length of time a driver’s license was suspended increased for some offenders under the new ALS law: for first offenders, from 90 to 180 days; for third offenders, from 1 to 2 years. The length of suspension for second offenders, however, was not changed. The VA law (2) provided for license plate impoundment and immobilization of a vehicle driven by a multiple DUI offender or by a driver under suspension for DUI (see Table I-1 for additional applications of the law).

This report describes an evaluation of both the ALS and VA laws with an emphasis on the effect of the vehicle immobilization law. To conduct this evaluation, the full driving record of every operator with a DUI conviction recorded between July 1, 1990, and August 30, 1995, was drawn from the Ohio BMV license files. This yielded an analysis file of 43,718 drivers with 58,490 DUI or implied consent convictions. These were separated into two groups: 31,231 drivers with 40,305 convictions offending before and 16,494 drivers with 18,185 DUI or implied convictions offending after the September 1993 implementation date of the two laws. Included in these two groups were 4,007 drivers who committed DUI or implied consent offenses in both periods. Using this data, the effects of these new laws on DUI recidivism, moving violations, and crashes were determined by contrasting the driving records of DUI offenders apprehended before and after the new laws were implemented.

(1) The term "ALR" is typically used to describe this type of law though Ohio, like most states suspends (ALS) rather than revokes the drivers license. The more common term ALS is used in this report.
(2) In Ohio, this law is typically known as the "immobilization" law. However, since it provides for impoundment of the vehicle and license plates as well as vehicle immobilization, this legislation covering vehicle actions will be called the "Ohio vehicle action" (VA) law in this report.

Table -1
Highlights of Ohio Senate Bill 275 (ALS) and 62 (impoundment) (3)

  • Officer makes an OMVI (4) arrest and offers a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) test.
  • If the results exceed the legal limit of .10% or the violator refuses the test, then officer takes the offender’s driver’s license and suspension begins immediately. (If BAC is less than .10%, then no ALS.)
  • The Bureau of Motor Vehicles automotically suspends the driving privileges for:
Refusal of Test


2nd in 5 years

3rd in 5 years

4th or more in 5 years


1 year

2 years

3 years

5 years

Test .10% BAC or more

1st offense

2nd offense in 5 years

3rd offense in 5 years

4th or more in 5 years


90 days

1 year

2 years

3 years

  • This administrative suspension is independent of any jail term, fine or other criminal penalty imposed in court for an OMVI offense. Effective September 30, 1993, Sub. H.B. 377 increases the judicial license suspension for first-time OMVI offenders from 90 days to a minimum of six months upon conviction.
The court will hold a hearing within 5 days of arrest. If appeal is requested, it is heard at the time of the initial court appearance. The scope of the hearing is confined to four issues:
  • Was the arrest based on reasonable grounds?
  • Did the officer request the person to take a test?
  • Was the violator told what would happen if he/she refused or failed the test?
  • Did the person refuse or fail the test?
Upon conviction,(5) the court is required to order the impoundment of the license plates and immobilization of the vehicle that the OMVI offender was operating at the time of the offense. The penalities are as follows:

1st offense
2nd in 5 years
3rd or more in 5 years


no impdmt./immob.
90 days (immob. & impdmt.)
180 days (immob. & impdmt.)

DUS (6) for OMVI or FRA

30 days (immob. & impdmt.)
60 days (immob. & impdmt.)

Vehicle forfeiture shall be ordered by the court for:
  • Fourth offense of OMVI
  • Third offense or more of Driving Under Suspension (DUS) for OMVI or DUS for financial responsibility (FRA)
  • Second offense (ever) of owner knowingly permitting a person who is under suspension to drive a vehicle they own
  • First offense of driving a vehicle that is immobilized and plates impounded

There is a provision for a court review to protect an innocent owner of a vehicle from vehicle forfeiture or immobilization/plates impoundment.

(3) Source: Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles ALS Handbook.
(4) Ohio uses the term "Operating a Motor Vehicle While Impaired" (OMVI) rather than the more commonly used term "DUI." DUI is used in this report.
(5) Although not noted here, vehicle impoundment was required upon arrest pending trial, with credit given for days served (see Appendix).
(6) The term "DUS" (driving under suspension) is used in Ohio; however, in this report, we use the more common term "DWS" (driving while suspended).
(7) The vehicle forfeiture component of the program was not evaluated because there were too few cases for evaluation.