The Hard Core Drinking Driver
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
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
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 look-back; (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, non-alcohol-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.
This information came from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration online article.
Nineteen ninety-eight is the most recent year for which complete
data are available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.