States Crack Down on Drunk Driving: Immediate Driver License Suspension Found Most Effective in Saving Lives

Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD, and researchers at the University of Florida's Department of Epidemiology and Health Policy Research examined how changes in 46 states' drinking and driving laws enacted between 1976 and 2002 affected alcohol-related crashes and fatalities.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP).

Key Findings

Wagenaar and his researchers reported their findings in a number of journal articles. They include:

  • Laws allowing police officers to suspend driver licenses immediately at the time of failing a breath test were the most effective in reducing single-vehicle nighttime car crash fatalities. These laws reduced fatalities whether drivers had low, medium or high blood alcohol content levels. They reduced fatalities by 5 percent, saving about 800 lives per year.
  • Policies allowing for license suspension only later after conviction did not show significant reductions in crashes.
  • Reducing the legal blood alcohol content level from 0.08 g/dl (grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood) to 0.05 g/dl would save 538 lives per year.
  • Mandatory fine policies may have an effect in some states, but mandatory jail policies showed little effect. Estimated effects varied greatly by state.