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CONTRACTOR: Preusser Research Group, Inc.

7100 Main Street Trumbull, CT 06611

REPORT TITLE: Evaluation of Use and Lose Laws
REPORT DATE: June 2001

REPORT AUTHOR(S): R.G. Ulmer, V.I. Shabanova, and D.F. Preusser

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. Therefore, "Use and Lose" has the meaning that if you use alcohol or other drugs you will lose your license.

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.

Information from several states has indicated that the actual implementation of Use and Lose can vary from case to case. This circumstance 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 who did not receive a license action.


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.


Data obtained from two states that have longstanding Use and Lose laws, Missouri and Pennsylvania, were used in the study. The Missouri law, titled "Abuse and Lose", calls for the suspension of driving privileges of persons under the age of 21 who plea or are found guilty of: 1) Any alcohol related traffic offense; or 2) Possession or use of alcohol, committed while operating a motor vehicle; or 3) Possession or use of a controlled substance; or 4) Alteration, modification or misrepresentation of a license to operate a motor vehicle; or 5) A second offense of possession or use of alcohol by persons under the age of 18. The suspension period or delay in licensing is 90 days for a first offense and one year for subsequent offenses. Conviction records used in the study came from the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Traffic Arrest System/Alcohol and Drug Offense Records System. These data covered persons under the age of 21 who were arrested in the years 1995, 1996 and 1997 who pled or were found guilty of one of the charges just noted. Arrests and convictions for alcohol related traffic offenses were statewide data while arrests and convictions for the other charges were those made by the Highway Patrol. Driver record data came from the Division of Motor Vehicles and Driver Licensing of the Missouri Department of Revenue. Missouri is one of a few states that does not include motor vehicle crash involvements in its driver record files. The resulting data, therefore, included records of traffic law convictions and actions taken against the drivers' licenses. Driver records for 4,267 cases were available for analysis.

The Pennsylvania Use and Lose law calls for license suspension or delay in licensing of persons under the age of 21 convicted of: 1) Purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor, malt or brewed beverages; or 2) Misrepresenting age to obtain alcohol; 3) or Carrying a false identification card. The suspension period or delay in licensing is 90 days for a first offense, one year for a second offense and two years for subsequent offenses. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency provided data on Use and Lose cases filed in the District Courts during 1995, 1996 and 1997. This file was transmitted to the Bureau of Driver Licensing of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation which did a name/date of birth search of its driver record files to obtain data on the crashes and motor vehicle law violations of the persons involved. Driver records for 5,690 cases were available for analysis.


In Missouri, DWI offenses by persons under age 21 are among the charges included in the state's Abuse and Lose law. The data obtained from Missouri showed that a driver's license action took place in the large majority of these cases (85%), while a licensing action was rarely reported with charges of possession or use of alcohol (16%) or possession or use of a controlled substance (14%). Unfortunately, this resulted in small numbers of either suspended or not suspended cases for comparison in the three groups. In the most extreme instance, there were only 37 persons charged with possession or use of controlled substances who had undergone a licensing action. The analysis of subsequent traffic violations between all of those who received a suspension versus all of those not suspended showed fewer subsequent violations in the suspension group. However, these differences were not statistically significant when calculated within the three groups separately.

The Pennsylvania data set proved to be more robust. Almost all of the Use and Lose charges were for purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of alcohol. Unlike Missouri, DWI is not a Use and Lose law charge in Pennsylvania. However, it was found that about one-half of the Use and Lose charges were made in the context of a DWI arrest. That is, the driving records showed a DWI arrest and license action on the same date as the arrest on the Use and Lose charge, strongly suggesting that the arresting officer made multiple charges in the same event. The other one-half of the cases were not DWI associated. About one-third of all of the cases did not undergo license action.

The results in Pennsylvania showed that those who underwent a license action were less like to receive a subsequent traffic violation conviction. The DWI associated suspended drivers were least likely to have a subsequent conviction (adjusted Odds Ratio [OR] equals 0.52); followed by the Use and Lose suspended drivers (OR=0.61); as compared to those drivers whose licenses were not suspended. Subsequent convictions were more common among males (OR=1.90); less common among older, i.e., nineteen and twenty year-old, drivers (OR=0.78). The Use and Lose suspended drivers were least likely to have a subsequent crash involvement (OR=0.64) followed by the DWI associated suspended drivers (OR=0.79); as compared to those drivers whose licenses were not suspended.


The young persons examined in the present study had been arrested on charges of alcohol and substance abuse, often including DWI. In both Missouri and Pennsylvania, the majority of these persons had traffic violation convictions prior to the input arrest and a large minority had a previous action taken against their driver's license. Also in Pennsylvania, about one in four had a previous motor vehicle crash. These circumstances suggest that the study population was high risk from the highway safety point of view.

The findings in Pennsylvania, that license actions taken against this group do lead to fewer subsequent violations and crashes, provides additional evidence that the withdrawal of driving privileges is an effective driver control measure. While the study findings do not comment on the possible deterrent effects of Use and Lose laws on substance abuse by young persons, the application of license actions do lead to fewer violations and crashes by this high risk group.

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