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The term "Use and Lose" has been coined to describe laws that authorize driver licensing actions against persons found to be using or in possession of illicit drugs, and against young persons found to be drinking, purchasing or in possession of alcoholic beverages. Use and Lose laws generally have been enacted to combat alcohol/drug abuse irrespective of possible highway safety benefits. That is, as it came to be recognized that young persons were not very likely to be jailed or otherwise substantially sanctioned by the criminal justice system for alcohol/drug offenses, states sought a meaningful sanction to deter these offenses. Driver license removal, or denying licensure, was seen as a sanction that could be readily imposed and would be meaningful to youth.

While the focus of Use and Lose laws has been on deterring substance abuse, presumably they should also have highway safety effects. License denials, suspensions and revocations under these laws range from 30 days to as much as five years for repeat offenders. The persons convicted are likely to be a sample of individuals who are "at risk" for alcohol/drug impaired driving. Of special relevance from the highway safety point of view, are those Use and Lose laws which include alcohol violations since youth have very high crash rates and alcohol is the one drug most often associated with highway crashes.

Reports from several states have indicated that the actual implementation of Use and Lose can vary from case to case. In some jurisdictions, cases may be diverted prior to prosecution. In others, the documentation regarding a conviction may never be forwarded to the state licensing authority to trigger the licensing action. Other jurisdictions do routinely convict and then process the necessary paperwork. The less than full implementation of Use and Lose creates the possibility of a naturally occurring "experiment" where the driving records of youth arrested on a Use and Lose charge who underwent a license action can be compared with the records of youth arrested in the same state but not sanctioned.

The objective of the study was to assess the highway safety effects of Use and Lose in terms of subsequent motor vehicle crashes and violations of underage persons arrested for alcohol/drug violations. The study was not intended to assess why jurisdictions do or do not impose Use and Lose sanctions. Rather, it makes use of such differences to establish treatment and comparison groups that are compared regarding subsequent driving records.


Licenses to operate motor vehicles were first required in 1903 by the states of Massachusetts and Missouri. It wasn't until the 1950s, however, before all states had implemented an examination/road test as a condition of licensing (FHWA, 1997).

Among other features, the driver licensing process provides a basis for driver control measures. For example, most states have point-count systems wherein actions can be taken after motorists have accumulated a number of points that are assessed for traffic violations and possibly for at-fault crashes. These systems range from simple point-count thresholds that trigger mandatory license suspension to more complex sequential driver improvement programs that commence before the license suspension threshold is reached (Peck, 1976).

Convictions for individual motor vehicle offenses can also lead to license revocation or suspension. The relevant offenses usually are those considered very serious in nature (e.g., vehicular homicide, DWI, leaving the scene of a crash, drag racing, etc.). License actions also take place when certain legal requirements are not met (e.g., failure to submit to a chemical test for alcohol, failure to carry motor vehicle insurance, falsifying a driver's license application, etc.).

There are also instances in particular states where license withdrawal is required as a penalty for offenses that lie outside the usual motor vehicle law/driver control arena. Some examples include: using a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony, motor vehicle theft, discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, committing an immoral act in which a motor vehicle was used, advocating the overthrow of the government, defacing public or private property, non- payment of child support, and withdrawal from high school.

In the U.S., age 16 is when substantial numbers of persons begin to obtain unrestricted driver's licenses. In 1998, 44 percent of 16 year-olds were licensed. The percentages licensed among 17, 18, 19 and 20 year-olds were 60%, 75%, 79% and 82% respectively. The teen years are a time of transition to adulthood and obtaining a driver's license is considered by many teens to be an important step toward growing independence. The teen years are also when drinking, drinking-driving, and experimentation with drugs begin to appear (Preusser et al., 1975; Johnston et al., 2000).

Use and Lose laws generally began to appear during the mid-1980s. The basic premise of these laws was that teens highly value obtaining a driver's license and that the threat of losing their license, or delaying when one could be obtained, would deter many from substance abuse. Information compiled by NHTSA indicates that presently there are 36 states and the District of Columbia that specifically authorized driver license denial or withdrawal for underage alcohol purchase, consumption or possession (see Appendix A).

As noted, information from such states as Missouri, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin suggest that the sanctions under Use and Lose laws are not uniformly applied. The problem appears to be that some judges feel that the penalty, license withdrawal, is too severe for alcohol possession violations. Others feel that the sanction is unrelated to the offense and thus should not be applied. Still others, particularly in the juvenile system at the municipal level, believe that imposing license actions is not a part of their job (Preusser et al., 1992).

In 1994, Congress moved to expand the Use and Lose approach to drug offenses by persons of all ages. Effective that year, Congress required that states either adopt legislation mandating a 6-month license suspension or revocation of persons convicted of drug offenses, or certify that the Governor and legislature are opposed to such a law. States that failed to act would have highway funds withheld (23 USC Section 159). In the year 2000, eighteen states and the District of Columbia had enacted such legislation while 32 states certified opposition to such a law (see Appendix A).

From the highway safety perspective, the essential feature of Use and Lose laws is the potential for license withdrawal. Court ordered license suspensions or revocations have been problematic irrespective of Use and Lose. For instance, one of the early system problems identified with DWI control was the frequent failure of the courts to order license withdrawal following conviction. This problem ultimately led to Administrative License Revocation (ALR) laws which require state licensing agencies, rather than the courts, to suspend or revoke the licenses of drivers arrested for DWI who have blood alcohol concentrations at or above the illegal level (for example, .08) or who refuse to submit to a chemical test for alcohol.

While there is evidence that ALR does not have a major impact on offenders' jobs or incomes (Knoebel and Ross, 1997), the mandatory nature of ALR license actions has been reduced in many states by allowing hardship licenses that permit drivers otherwise suspended or revoked to drive at particular times and/or for particular purposes. In some states, hardship licenses are available almost immediately after the ALR action, while in others, a minimum "hard suspension" period is required. In any event, several studies have shown that mandatory license withdrawal/ALR laws are effective general and specific deterrents to DWI behavior (Lacey et al., 1991; Preusser et al, 1988). Evidence suggests that allowing immediate hardship licensing is less effective than requiring a hard suspension period (Nichols and Ross, 1989).

License withdrawal has also been shown to be more effective than treatment or rehabilitation alternatives in DWI cases (Preusser et al., 1976; Sadler et al., 1991) and to have traffic safety benefits not shown by other DWI sanctions at the time (Mann et al., 1991). License withdrawal has also been found to be more effective than driver improvement educational programs with repeat traffic offenders (McKnight, A.J. and Tippetts, A.S., 1997). There is no known prior literature on the effects of Use and Lose Laws.

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