In 1984, the National Transportation Safety Board published a safety study titled Deficiencies in Enforcement, Judicial, and Treatment Programs Related to Repeat Offender Drunk Drivers (NTSB/SS-84/04) (the Repeat Offender Study). That study identified repeat offender drinking drivers (included in this report under the category of “hard core drinking drivers”) as a serious traffic safety problem.
In the more than 15 years that have passed since that investigation was concluded, efforts have been made by all the States to address this major safety problem. However, despite significant progress, the measures taken and the degree of implementation have not been uniform, and 15,794 people still died in 1999 from alcohol-related crashes. This number is far above the target set by the Secretary of Transportation in 1995 to reduce the number of alcohol-related fatalities to no more than 11,000 by 2005.
For purposes of this report, the NTSB uses the term “hard core drinking drivers” to include repeat offender drinking drivers (that is, offenders who have prior convictions or arrests for a Driving While Impaired [DWI] by alcohol offense) and high-BAC offenders (that is, all offenders with a blood alcohol concentration [BAC] of 0.15 percent or greater).
From 1983 through 1998, at least 137,338 people died in crashes involving hard core drinking drivers.1 NHTSA’s data also indicate that 99,812 people were injured in fatal crashes involving hard core drinking drivers (as defined by the Safety Board) during that same time period. In 1998 alone, hard core drinking drivers were involved in a minimum of 6,370 highway fatalities, the estimated cost of which was at least $5.3 billion.
In preparing this report, the Safety Board reviewed the literature on countermeasures that have been found effective in reducing recidivism, crashes, fatalities, and injuries. This report identifies the highway safety problem involving hard core drinking drivers, discusses research on control measures, and proposes solutions. It also discusses steps taken by the United States Congress to address the hard core drinking driver problem by enacting certain provisions in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), and suggests ways to make this legislation even more effective.
TEA-21 would better assist the States to reduce the hard core drinking driver problem if it were modified to (a) include a revised definition of “repeat offender” that included administrative actions on DWI offenses, (b) require mandatory treatment for offenders, (c) establish an extended period for records retention and DWI offense lookback; (d) require administratively imposed vehicle sanctions; (e) eliminate provisions for community service; and (f) provide for the inclusion of home detention with electronic monitoring.
The Safety Board believes that a model program to reduce hard core drinking driving would incorporate the following elements:
- Frequent and well-publicized statewide sobriety checkpoints that include checking for valid driver’s licenses. Checkpoints should not be limited to holiday periods.
- Vehicle sanctions to restrict or separate hard core drinking drivers from their vehicles, including license plate actions (impoundment, confiscation, or other actions); vehicle immobilization, impoundment, and forfeiture; and ignition interlocks for high-BAC first offenders and repeat offenders.
- State and community cooperative programs involving driver licensing agencies, law enforcement officers, judges, and probation officers to enforce DWI suspension and revocation.
- Legislation to require that DWI offenders who have been convicted or administratively adjudicated maintain a zero blood alcohol concentration while operating a motor vehicle.
- Legislation that defines a high blood alcohol concentration (0.15 percent or greater) as an “aggravated” DWI offense that requires strong intervention similar to that ordinarily prescribed for repeat DWI offenders.
- As alternatives to confinement, programs to reduce hard core drinking driver recidivism that include home detention with electronic monitoring and/or intensive probation supervision programs.
- Legislation that restricts the plea bargaining of a DWI offense to a lesser, nonalcohol- related offense, and that requires the reasons for DWI charge reductions be entered into the public record.
- Elimination of the use of diversion programs that permit erasing, deferring, or otherwise purging the DWI offense record or that allow the offender to avoid license suspension.
- Administrative license revocation for BAC test failure and refusal.
- A DWI record retention and DWI offense enhancement look-back period of at least 10 years.
- Individualized sanction programs for hard core DWI offenders that rely on effective countermeasures for use by courts that hear DWI cases.
As a result of this review, the Safety Board issued a recommendation to the Governors and Legislative Leaders of the 50 States and to the Mayor and Council of the District of Columbia, to establish a hard core drinking driver program that is designed to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related crashes and fatalities, and that includes highly visible enforcement, administrative license revocation, vehicle sanctions, special laws for aggravated driving while impaired offenses and zero BAC for repeat offenders, limits on plea-bargaining, alternatives to confinement, and improved record-keeping, as described in the model program. The Board also issued a recommendation to the U.S. Department of Transportation, regarding improvements to the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.