Vehicle Impoundment

One of the interventions in MV PICCS is for vehicles to be seized from driving while impaired (DWI) offenders and stored in an impound lot for a period of time; this is referred to as vehicle impoundment.1 An offender can either reclaim or surrender his or her vehicle when the impoundment period ends.1

Effectiveness and Use of Vehicle Impoundment

Several studies indicate recidivism (continued alcohol-impaired driving, as measured by re-arrest) is reduced while the vehicle is in custody and after the vehicle has been released.1-4 An evaluation of the 1993 introduction of a 90–180 day vehicle impoundment after second or third DWI arrest in Hamilton County, Ohio, found reductions in recidivism both during and after impoundment for those who received this sanction compared to those who did not.4 A 1994–1995 evaluation in California of first-time and repeat offenders arrested for driving while unlicensed or with a revoked/suspended license found fewer subsequent traffic convictions and crashes among those whose vehicles had been impounded compared to those whose vehicles had not been impounded.2 An evaluation of the 2010 introduction of a seven-day impoundment after DWI arrest in Ontario, Canada, found a reduction in recidivism in the three months following license reinstatement.3

The studies above found evidence that vehicle impoundment reduces recidivism, but two studies of the same programs did not find evidence that they changed the behavior of those who had not yet experienced impoundment. A second evaluation of the California law found similar crash rates among drivers with suspended/revoked licenses (who would be eligible for impoundment) and drivers with valid licenses.5 Similarly, a second study of the Ontario, Canada, seven-day vehicle impoundment law found that the new program did not have an effect on the total number of collisions involving impaired drivers in the province.6

Vehicle-based sanctions have been applied principally to repeat DWI offenders historically, but there is variability among states.1

Recent or Current Legislation by State

Please see the most recent NHTSA Digest of Impaired Driving and Selected Beverage Control Lawsexternal icon for recent information on vehicle impoundment laws by state.7

Costs of Vehicle Impoundment and Time to Implement

Vehicle impoundment programs can be structured so they are administered by towing contractors and supported by the sale of unclaimed vehicles or by fees paid by drivers to reclaim their vehicles.1 Vehicle impoundment can be costly because owners might abandon low-value vehicles instead of paying storage fees, which can be up to $95 per day.1,8

Generally, license plate and vehicle sanctions require several months to implement, and administrative structures to process the sanctions are needed.1

Other Issues and Resources

You can read Chapter 1, Section 4.3 of NHTSA’s Countermeasures that Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Safety Officespdf iconexternal icon to learn more about the topics above and other issues related to vehicle impoundment, such as to whom vehicle sanctions are applied and administrative issues(Tenth Edition, 2020).1 More information is also available in Strategy 2.1 C1 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 licensespdf iconexternal icon.8

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


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.9 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.9 Laws directed at vehicles, such as license plate impoundment, vehicle impoundment, and vehicle forfeiture, avoid this problem.9 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).9,10 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.9,10

As of 2004, seven states and the District of Columbia allowed short-term vehicle impoundment for DWI offenders, 11 allowed long-term vehicle impoundment for DWI offenders, and nine allowed for long-term vehicle impoundment for driving with a suspended license.11 See above for recent legislation.


  1. Venkatraman, V., Richard, C. M., Magee, K., & Johnson, K. (2021). Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasures guide for State Highway Safety Offices. (Report No. DOT HS 813 097). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration iconexternal icon
  2. Deyoung, D. J. (1999). An evaluation of the specific deterrent effects of vehicle impoundment on suspended, revoked, and unlicensed drivers in California. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 31(1–2), 45–53. icon
  3. Byrne, P. A., Ma, T., & Elzohairy, Y. (2016). Vehicle impoundments improve drinking and driving licence suspension outcomes: Large-scale evidence from Ontario. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 95, 125–131. icon
  4. Voas, R. B., Tippetts, A. S., & Taylor, E. (1998). Temporary vehicle impoundment in Ohio: A replication and confirmation. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 30(5), 651–655. icon
  5. DeYoung, D. J. (2000). An evaluation of the general deterrent effect of vehicle impoundment on suspended and revoked drivers in California. Journal of Safety Research, 31(2), 51–59. icon
  6. Byrne, P. A., Ma, T., Mann, R. E., & Elzohairy, Y. (2016). Evaluation of the general deterrence capacity of recently implemented (2009–2010) low and Zero BAC requirements for drivers in Ontario. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 88, 56–67. icon
  7. 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 iconexternal icon
  8. 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 iconexternal icon
  9. 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. icon
  10. 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). iconexternal icon
  11. Voas, R. B., McKnight, A. S., Falb, T., & Fell, J. C. (2008). Update of vehicle sanction laws and their application: Volume I – Summary (Report No. DOT HS 811 028A). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration icon