MV PICCS Intervention: License Plate Impoundment

At a glance

License plate impoundment deters convicted DWI offenders from driving their vehicle since it is relatively easy for police to observe whether a vehicle has a license plate.

Overview

One of the interventions in MV PICCS is to require drivers to surrender their license plate if they are convicted of driving while impaired (DWI); this is referred to as license plate impoundment. Vehicle license plates are either seized or destroyed.1 This intervention deters convicted DWI offenders from driving their vehicle since it is relatively easy for police to observe whether a vehicle has a license plate.

Effectiveness and use

Fewer evaluations have been performed of license plate impoundment laws than vehicle impoundment laws. Some evidence supports license plate impoundment as an effective strategy for controlling impaired driving. In Minnesota, an evaluation of two license plate impoundment laws introduced from 1998–2001 found reductions in DWI recidivism (continued alcohol-impaired driving, as measured by re-arrest) and driving while suspended violations among drivers whose plates were impounded. These effects lasted up to three years in some cases.2 License plate impoundment was most effective at preventing recidivism for younger offenders (ages 21–34), who are a critical population for impaired driving prevention.2

Administrative implementation at the time of arrest rather than later implementation through the courts or the mail is most effective.3

Vehicle-based sanctions have been applied principally to repeat DWI offenders historically, but there is variability among states.1 For example, in Ohio, a 30-day license plate impoundment period occurs after a first offense of driving with a suspended license for driving while intoxicated.4

State legislation

Please see the most recent NHTSA Digest of Impaired Driving and Selected Beverage Control Laws for recent information on license plate impoundment laws by state.4

Costs and time to implement

Generally, license plate and vehicle sanctions require several months to implement, and administrative structures to process the sanctions are needed.1 Once implemented, license plate impoundment is relatively low cost.13

Other issues and resources

You can read NHTSA's Countermeasures that Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Safety Offices (Tenth Edition, 2020) to learn more about the topics above and other issues related to license plate impoundment, such as to whom license plate sanctions are applied and administrative issues.1 More information is also available in Strategy 2.1 B2 in Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Volume 2: A guide for addressing collisions involving unlicensed drivers and drivers with suspended or revoked licenses.3

You can read the RAND Corporation's final reports for MV PICCS 1.0/2.0 and MV PICCS 3.0 for more information about how effectiveness and costs were incorporated into the MV PICCS tool for this intervention.

History

In the early 1980s, states began enacting administrative license revocation (ALR) laws, which allow police officers to seize a driver's license for impaired driving at the time of arrest. The license would then be suspended by the state motor vehicle department for a set period.5 While ALR laws allow for a swift penalty to be applied, they are difficult to enforce because the offender's license status is only checked when the driver's vehicle is stopped for another traffic violation.5 Laws directed at vehicles, such as license plate impoundment, vehicle impoundment, and vehicle forfeiture, avoid this problem.5 While these vehicle-based countermeasures were used prior to its passage, they became more common after the enactment in 1998 of the federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).56 This act provided states financial incentives to introduce either ignition interlock or vehicle impoundment penalties after a second DWI. After the enactment of the act, several states passed laws directed at vehicles.56

As of December 2014, at least nine states enforced license plate impoundment.17 See above for recent legislation.

Note‎

The MV PICCS tool and supporting materials are no longer being updated. The tool is based on 2015 data; intervention descriptions were updated in 2022.
  1. Venkatraman, V., Richard, C. M., Magee, K., & Johnson, K. (2023). Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasures guide for State Highway Safety Offices. (Report No. DOT HS 813 490). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. https://www.nhtsa.gov/book/countermeasures/countermeasures-that-work
  2. Leaf, W. A., & Preusser, D. F. (2011). Evaluation of Minnesota's vehicle plate impoundment law for impaired drivers. (Report No. DOT HS 811 351). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/811351.pdf
  3. Neuman, T. R., Pfefer, R., Slack, K. L., Hardy, K. K., & Waller, P. (2003). Guidance for implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Volume 2: A guide for addressing collisions involving unlicensed drivers and drivers with suspended or revoked licenses. Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_500v2.pdf
  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2017). Digest of impaired driving and selected beverage control laws; 30th edition: Current as of December 31, 2015. (Report No. DOT HS 812 394). Washington, DC: Author https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/812394-digest-of-impaired-driving-and-selected-beverage-control-laws.pdf
  5. Voas, R. B., & Deyoung, D. J. (2002). Vehicle action: Effective policy for controlling drunk and other high-risk drivers? Accident Analysis & Prevention, 34(3), 263–270. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457501000252?via%3Dihub
  6. DeYoung, D. J. (2013). Controlling the risk of impaired drivers through use of vehicle-based sanctions: Impoundment, forfeiture, and license plate sanctions In Countermeasures to address impaired driving offenders – toward an integrated model (Transportation Research Circular, Number E-C174, pp. 20-31).http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/circulars/ec174.pdf
  7. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2016). Digest of impaired driving and selected beverage control laws, 29th edition: Current as of December 31, 2014. (Report No. DOT HS 812 119). Washington, DC: Author https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/812267_2014-impaireddrivingdigest.pdf