“In recent years many States have implemented sanctions affecting a DWI offender’s license plate or vehicle. These sanctions are intended to prevent the offender from driving the vehicle while the sanctions are in effect, and also to deter impaired driving by the general public” (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-34). Vehicle impoundment allows seizure and storage of a DWI offender’s vehicle for a designated period of time. The penalty duration varies by state and can be short term (up to 48 hours) or long term (ranges from ten days up to one year), although long-term impoundment laws are more frequently considered in literature about vehicle sanctions (McKnight et al., 2008).
“[NHTSA, 2008h] and [Voas, Fell, et al., 2004] give an overview of vehicle and license plate sanctions and are the basic references for the information provided below. See also Brunson and Knighten, 2005, Practice #4, and [Neuman et al., 2003], Strategies B1, B2, and C1” (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-34).
Since the early 1980s, convicted DWI offenders have been subject to ALR laws that suspend the offender’s driving privileges for a period of time. However, offenders may continue to endanger others by driving illegally, an offense known as DWS. Beginning in 1999, the first states began passing vehicle impoundment laws as a way to deter offenders from committing further DWS and DWI violations (Voas and DeYoung, 2002).
As of 2004, vehicle impoundment was used in 22 states (McKnight et al., 2008, Table 1). Of these, 15 states allowed for long-term impoundment. Another seven allowed impoundment on a short-term basis only, to prevent a drunk driver from driving home after an arrest, rather than as a long-term measure (see Table B.8). More-recent updates were not available.
Six published studies have evaluated vehicle impoundment laws. Of these, three reported positive findings that “[v]ehicle impoundment reduces recidivism while the vehicle is in custody and to a lesser extent after the vehicle has been released” (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-34). Two found relatively little change, and one reported overall reductions in a few traffic safety measures, but these could not be attributed exclusively to vehicle impoundment.
In Ohio, researchers looked at the effect of vehicle impoundment in two counties. One study in Franklin County (Columbus) found a 37.7-percent reduction in DWS recidivism during vehicle impoundment for drivers with previous DWI charges (Voas, Tippetts, and Taylor, 1997). A smaller effect, 27.7 percent, was found in DWI recidivism but was insignificant. The study also found a lasting reduction in recidivism after the vehicle was returned (the length of the penalty period varied from 30 days to 180 days, depending on the number of previous offenses), but this result included the effect of both impoundment and immobilization sanctions. In another study, in Hamilton County (Cincinnati), any driver with any DWS offense or more than one DWI offense is eligible for vehicle impoundment. Voas, Tippetts, and Taylor, 1998, found 40-percent reductions in DWS and DWI offenses for the impounded group during the penalty period and 25-percent reductions approximately one year after impoundment. This postpenalty effect was larger (56 to 58 percent) for the drivers whose cars were impounded due to second and third DWI offenses—possibly because these drivers were not reclaiming their cars.
Similar results were found in California. DeYoung, 1999, studied the specific deterrence effect that California’s impoundment law had on drivers with suspended or revoked licenses (S/Rs). This evaluation found that both first-time and repeat S/R drivers whose vehicles were impounded had fewer subsequent DWS convictions, moving-violation convictions, and crashes than those in similar control groups whose violations occurred the year before the law went into effect. The effect of impoundment, relative to the control group, was larger for repeat S/R drivers. This study was not limited to drivers with alcohol offenses, and the reason for drivers’ S/R status was not provided; however, it is likely that many of the S/R orders result from repeat DWI convictions.
Researchers also examined the effect that California’s impoundment law had on multiple safety outcomes in the city of Upland (Cooper, Chira-Chivala, and Gillen, 2000) using crash and citation data from one year before implementation up to 4.5 years after implementation. This study did not track individual violators over time. Time-series analyses found slight reductions in DWI offenses, driving without a valid license, and traffic crashes (includes fatal and nonfatal injury, hit-and-run, and speed-related crashes). The authors suggest that these outcomes are the result of the continued, long-term, and strict enforcement of the impound law in the city.
Two studies were less conclusive about effectiveness of impoundment laws. In a separate analysis of the California impoundment law, DeYoung, 2000, examined the general deterrent effect by examining crash rates of both S/R drivers and non-S/R drivers using time-series analysis (autoregressive integrated moving average [ARIMA] models). The crash rates for both groups decreased after the vehicle impoundment law went into effect (13.6 percent for the S/R drivers and 8.3 percent for control drivers), but these effects quickly lessened over time and were almost completely gone after one year. The authors found no compelling evidence of a general deterrent impact of the impoundment law.
A study in Manitoba, Canada, by Beirness, Simpson, et al., 1997, as cited in Voas and DeYoung, 2002, found a decline in both fatal crashes and nighttime single-car crashes for DWS drivers after an impoundment law and ALS law went into effect.41 The authors were unable to attribute causality of their findings because of the simultaneous introduction of the two laws.
The strategy is costly, as storage fees can be $20 daily and owners may abandon low-value vehicles rather than pay substantial storage costs, [in which case the locality is responsible for the storage and towing costs] ([Neuman et al., 2003], Strategy C1; [NTSB, 2000]). In California, impoundment programs are administered largely by towing contractors and supported by fees paid when drivers reclaim their vehicles or by the sale of unclaimed vehicles. (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, pp. 1-34–1-35)
The effectiveness of vehicle impoundment laws is generally measured in terms of recidivism expressed as the percentage of offenders who drive while unlicensed (DWU) or suspended (DWS) or have alcohol-related traffic violations after being sanctioned. Crash rates are another common outcome of interest in impoundment studies.
Specific information on implementing vehicle impoundment is not available; however, “vehicle and license plate sanctions require at least several months to implement” (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-34).
To Whom Vehicle Sanctions Are Applied
Vehicle impoundment policies vary by state, but “most vehicle sanctions have been applied to repeat [DWI] offenders” or those with DWS convictions following a DWI offense (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-35). “[S]ome States also apply vehicle sanctions to high-BAC first offenders (e.g., a BAC of .15 or higher)” or first offenders but with a shorter penalty period (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-35). “If someone other than the offender owns the vehicle, the vehicle owner should be required to sign an affidavit stating they will not allow the offender to drive the vehicle while the suspension is in effect ([NHTSA, 2008h])” (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-35).
All license plate and vehicle sanctions require an administrative structure to process the license plates or vehicles. [If laws] permit officers to impound vehicles . . . at the time of arrest [rather than waiting for a court-issued order, this reduces] the opportunity [for offenders] to . . . transfer vehicle ownership ([NHTSA, 2008h]). (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-35)
|State||Vehicle Impoundment or Confiscation Law|
|Ala.||A vehicle may be impounded if a driver is found to be driving with a revoked license or driving with a license suspended because of a DWI-related offense or refuses a breath test. However, the law provides that the vehicle will be released to the registered owner if the offender is not the owner. Further, police can release the vehicle, rather than impounding it, if it is determined that the driving is due to an emergency. This law does not seem to be aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by separating offenders from their vehicles.|
|Alaska||The municipalities may enact ordinances to impound or confiscate motor vehicles for violations of local DWI offenses or refusal of chemical test laws for first and subsequent offenses. However, these laws are not mandatory.|
|Ariz.||Under Arizona’s temporary vehicle impoundment law, the offender’s vehicle may be immediately impounded for 30 days if the driver is arrested for any of the following offenses: (1) DWR for any reason; (2) DWS where the suspension was based on driving under the influence; (3) DWS where the suspension was based on a drunk-driving offense; or (4) DWS where the suspension was based on the frequency of traffic law violation convictions. The vehicle may be released before 30 days if the offender’s driving privileges have been reinstated or if the offender’s spouse enters a five-year agreement with the state to not to allow an unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle.|
|Calif.||California has two vehicle impoundment laws. The first law states that a vehicle owned and driven by an offender may be impounded up to 30 days for a first or second DWI offense and up to 90 days for third and subsequent offenses, if the offense is committed within five years of a prior offense. This first law prevents the vehicle from being impounded if it is the only vehicle available to the family or if another person has a community-property interest in the vehicle. The second law states that the vehicle owned and driven by the offender may be impounded for up to six months for a first DWI offense and up to 12 months for a subsequent DWI offense. We found no information on reasons one law might be enforced rather than the other. There is no mention of laws concerning chemical test refusals.|
|Conn.||Connecticut has a vehicle impoundment law. The vehicle may be impounded for refusing a chemical test, which is a criminal offense and a felony DWI for a third or subsequent DWI offense. An ALR suspension counts as a prior DWI offense. There is also limited vehicle impoundment of 48 hours if a driver is arrested for drinking and driving with a suspended or revoked license. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.|
|D.C.||The District of Columbia also has a limited vehicle impoundment law, under which impoundment is limited to 24 hours. However, the vehicle may be released to a legally licensed driver.|
|Fla.||Florida has a vehicle impoundment law, under which the vehicle that is used and owned in a first DWI offense may be impounded for ten days. This action may not be concurrent with probation or imprisonment. For a second DWI offense within five years, the vehicle can be impounded for 30 days and, for a third DWI offense within ten years, for 90 days. This applies to all vehicles owned by the offender and may not be concurrent with probation or imprisonment. However, unlike first DWI offenses, it must be concurrent with the driver’s license revocation. For first, second, and third DWI offenses, these actions are conditions of mandatory probation; however, the court may decide not to order vehicle impoundment if the family has no other means of transportation. There also is a limited vehicle impoundment law for a DWI offense if, at the time of the DWI offense, the offender was driving with a license suspended for a prior DWI offense. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.|
|Ill.||If the DWI offender is the registered owner, then the vehicle can be impounded for 24 hours for a second DWI offense or 48 hours for a third DWI offense. The vehicle may be released sooner to a competent, licensed driver with the owner’s consent. There also is a limited vehicle impoundment law, under which law enforcement can impound a driver’s vehicle for not more than 12 hours following a DWI arrest. Limited impoundment may be used if the officer reasonably believes that the arrested offender will commit another DWI offense if released. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.|
|Iowa||For a second or subsequent DWI offense, the vehicle owned and used by the offender can be impounded or immobilized and the license plate seized (and registration confiscated if the vehicle is in custody) by law enforcement authorities. New registration plates are issued only at the end of the driver’s license revocation period or 180 days, whichever is longer.|
|Kan.||For DWI violations, judges, at their discretion, may order vehicle impoundment or immobilization of the vehicle used in the offense, for up to one year. The offender pays all costs. Judges must take into account hardship to family. This law went into effect on July 1, 2003.|
|State||Vehicle Impoundment or Confiscation Law|
|Maine||Maine also has a temporary vehicle impoundment law. The vehicle used in a DWI offense or for DWS for a prior DWI offense may be seized; however, the vehicle may be released after eight hours. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.|
|Md.||The vehicle can be impounded or immobilized (by suspending license plates) for not more than 180 days if the driver’s license is currently suspended for a prior alcohol offense.|
|Minn.||Under Minnesota’s vehicle impoundment law, a vehicle may be impounded after a DWI arrest and released to the vehicle owner with proof of a valid driver’s license and insurance. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.|
|Miss.||For a second or subsequent DWI offenses, all vehicles owned by the offender must be impounded or immobilized at the time of conviction and remain so until the license suspension has expired. If any other person must use the vehicle, an ignition interlock may be required as an alternative to impoundment or immobilization.|
|Mo.||Missouri has a vehicle impoundment or vehicle forfeiture law; however, under Missouri law, cities with populations higher than 100,000 can make their own vehicle impoundment or forfeiture laws. The state law applies to the vehicle operated by the offender regardless of ownership; consequently, the vehicle is subject to impoundment or forfeiture if the driver has had one or more DWI offenses, including illegal per se. The vehicle also can be impounded or forfeited if the offender is driving with a license suspended for a prior DWI offense or for a DWI and involuntary manslaughter offense. Last, the vehicle can be impounded or forfeited if the driver has had two or more DWI offenses (including illegal per se) and, for either offense, had a BAC of 0.08 or greater (0.02 or greater for those under 21) or if the driver has refused to submit to a chemical test under the implied-consent law.|
|Neb.||An offender who is driving with a license suspended for a prior DWI or an implied-consent conviction may have his or her vehicle impounded for not less than ten days and not longer than 30 days. An offender under 21 may have his or her vehicle impounded if he or she has a BAC of 0.02 or greater.|
|N.J.||According to Century Council (2003), New Jersey has a vehicle impoundment law under which an offender’s vehicle must be impounded for 12 hours at the time of arrest. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders. NHTSA (2003a) does not report any vehicle impoundment laws in New Jersey, which raises a question as to which source is correct.|
|N.M.||New Mexico also has a vehicle immobilization law, under which a vehicle may be immobilized for 30 days if the offender was driving with a revoked license, unless immobilization poses a hardship to the family.|
|Ore.||Vehicle impoundment or immobilization is limited to one year for a second or subsequent DWI offense or for driving with a suspended license. This action is at the court’s discretion and applies to all vehicles owned and used by the offender, even if not used in the offense. The offender must pay the costs of removing, storing, or immobilizing the vehicle.|
|Va.||Any vehicle used in a DWI offense may be impounded or immobilized for 30 days if the offender was driving with a license suspended because of a prior DWI, an administrative per se violation, or chemical test refusal. In addition, vehicles owned by an offender may be impounded or immobilized for up to 90 days even if the vehicles were not used in the offense. There are family hardship exceptions for households with only one vehicle.|
|Wash.||Washington has a vehicle impoundment law. In addition to impounding the vehicle for other possible penalties for driving with a license suspended for a prior DWI conviction, authorities may also impound the vehicle for not more than 30 days on a first offense. For a second offense, the vehicle may be impounded for not more than 60 days or, for a third offense, not more than 90 days.|
|Wis.||There is a policy in Wisconsin that allows temporary vehicle impoundment, as part of the immobilization process. This is not a law, just a policy, and is used only temporarily and at the discretion of officers in the field.|
|Wyo.||Wyoming has a policy that allows for temporary vehicle impoundment. An offender’s vehicle may be impounded following an arrest if a sober driver is unavailable. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.|
SOURCE: McKnight et al., 2008.
- The duration of the study period was not provided.