Impaired driving is one of America’s most often committed and deadliest crimes. Driving while impaired can refer to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. All states have laws to address impaired driving. The alcohol-impaired driving laws are better understood and easier to enforce than those for drug-impaired driving.
Learn More About Impaired Driving
Drug-impaired driving is a growing problem in the U.S., and the laws are complex and vary by state. There are over 400 drugs that are tracked by NHTSA that can cause impairment, and each one has a different impact on every user. As states address the issue, the need for additional data is important.
GHSA has published a report summarizing the current state of knowledge of drug use by drivers on America's roadway and identifies actions that states and other stakeholders can take to detect and prevent drug-impaired driving.
It provides a number of recommendations in areas ranging from planning to education to laws and prosecution.
Alcohol-impairment is a factor in nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities. In 2014, 9,967 people were killed in crashes involving a alcohol-impaired driver, 31 percent of all fatalities.1 Of all those killed, 69 percent (6,852) were in crashes in which at least one driver had a BAC of .15 g/dL or higher.
State and local law enforcement officials work year-round to identify drunk drivers and get them off our roads. At specific times throughout the year, these efforts are amplified through the national drunk driving crackdown: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over. GHSA's member State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) work with their state and local law enforcement partners on this campaign, which combines high visibility law enforcement and public awareness to deter or detect drunk drivers.
Many drunk drivers are repeat offenders. To prevent those convicted of drunk driving from making the same bad decision agin, ignition interlocks are often employed. These devices analyze a driver's breath and disable the engine if alcohol is detected. Judges can mandate that all or a portion of convicted drunk drivers install interlocks in their cars for a specified period of time. All states now operate some type of ignition interlock program.
1 National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2015, November). 2014 Crash Data Key Findings (Traffic Safety Facts Crash•Stats. Report No. DOT HS 812 219). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812219.pdf
Excerpted from GHSA's Highway Safety Policies & Priorities [115 KB, 27 pgs.]
E. Impaired Driving
Impaired driving is a serious problem threatening the safety of our nation’s highways. There are, however, methods of combating this crisis, particularly in the areas of law enforcement, legislation, training programs and evaluation and treatment for offenders.
E.1 .08 Laws
GHSA encourages all states to maintain provisions setting the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level for DUI at .08 per se or lower.
E.2 Detecting Drunk Drivers
Detection of drunk drivers is an important component of any impaired driving system. Passive alcohol sensors, preliminary breath test devices, roadside evidential breath testing instruments and in-car video cameras have all been shown to be effective tools for identifying drunk drivers. GHSA supports the use of these devices and encourages states to enact enabling legislation allowing the use of such devices.
E.3 Administrative License Suspension or Revocation
GHSA supports prompt administrative license suspension or revocation for persons arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), refusing to take sobriety tests or failing such tests. GHSA urges all states to enact such provisions to reduce the instances of impaired driving.
E.4 Vehicle Sanctions
GHSA encourages states to enact penalties that will deter convicted DUI offenders from driving such as plate or registration confiscation, vehicle impoundment or immobilization or ignition interlock devices and vehicle seizure.
Ignition interlock devices have been found to reduce impaired driving recidivism. GHSA supports the use of ignition interlock devices by states for convicted or administratively sanctioned first time offenders and strongly encourages states to enact interlock laws for that purpose. Following a short, hard suspension period, convicted or administratively sanctioned offenders should be issued drivers’ licenses that limit travel to work, school or alcohol treatment facilities and, at the same time, should be required to use an ignition interlocks. To the extent practicable, ignition interlock programs should be offender funded.
GHSA also urges the federal government to fund further research on the use of interlock devices by convicted or administratively sanctioned drunk drivers.
GHSA supports research on advanced impaired driving detection technology and urges Congress to adequately fund such research.
E.5 High BAC and Repeat Offenders
GHSA supports enhanced penalties for first time offenders with high BAC levels (e.g. .15 and above) and repeat DUI offenders and urges states to enact high BAC laws. These penalties should be graduated, based on the BAC of the driver and/or the number of convictions. The penalties should include increased fines, license revocation, home detention and electronic monitoring, vehicle sanctions (such as registration cancellation and license plate seizure, impoundment, immobilization and ignition interlocks), intensive supervised probation, professional evaluation and treatment. GHSA strongly advocates the integration and coordination of administrative, criminal justice and treatment systems affecting these higher risk drunk drivers.
E.6 Open Container Laws
GHSA encourages all state and local governments to pass laws that prohibit the consumption of alcoholic beverages and the possession of open alcoholic beverage containers in the passenger compartments of motor vehicles.
E.7 Driving While Suspended
Impaired drivers who drive with a suspended or revoked license are a growing problem in this country. Vehicle sanctions (e.g. license plate seizure; vehicle impoundment, immobilization, or seizure, ignition interlocks) have been shown to be effective against driving while suspended. States should ensure that their vehicle sanction laws also apply to those impaired drivers who drive with a suspended or revoked license.
E.8 Enforcement of DUI Laws
GHSA supports the use of sobriety checkpoints or saturation patrols in a comprehensive traffic safety program to detect and apprehend alcohol and other drug-impaired drivers. GHSA further encourages states and localities, to the extent current resources permit, to establish dedicated DUI patrols whose sole responsibility is to enforce DUI laws.
E.9 BAC Testing and Reporting
Improved BAC/Drug testing should be a priority for every state because BAC/Drug data will give
states an accurate picture of the impaired driving problem in their state. All states are encouraged
to enact mandatory BAC/Drug testing laws for deceased and surviving drivers and pedestrians
involved in a fatal crash or where there is a likelihood of a fatality. States are encouraged to
support law enforcement officers, medical examiners, lab criminalists, and coroners with the
training and equipment they need for BAC/Drug testing and reporting. States should also develop
specific procedures for the FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System) analysts so they can
accurately report BAC/Drug test results. States are also encouraged to convene state forums on BAC/drug testing which would bring all the responsible agencies together to identify and
overcome state BAC/drug testing and reporting problems.
GHSA also urges states to: 1) enact tougher penalties for impaired driving offenders who refuse
to take BAC/Drug tests and 2) make test refusal admissible in court. The penalties should be
greater than those for failing a BAC/Drug test. The intent is to discourage test refusal and to close
a significant loophole in state impaired driving laws.
The provisions of state insurance law (referred to as Uniform Accident Sickness Policy Provision
Laws or UPPL) or insurance codes that deny payment for the treatment of impaired persons
should be repealed because such laws/codes hamper state BAC/Drug reporting efforts. States
should also explicitly prohibit insurance companies from excluding coverage for injuries suffered
under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Without an explicit prohibition, medical personnel
may be reluctant to test BAC/Drug levels on injured persons in emergency settings.
E.10 Designated Driver Programs
GHSA supports community-based designated driver and safe rides programs and urges states and localities to implement them for persons aged 21 and above.
E.11 Server Training Programs
GHSA recommends that NHTSA, state highway safety agencies, industry representatives, liquor control agencies and grassroots organizations with an interest in the issue of server training meet and develop a model program and establish strategies for implementing such a server training a model program. States are also encouraged to enact mandatory server training laws.
E.12 DUI Courts
DUI courts are a promising strategy to change the behavior of offenders who are repeatedly arrested for driving while impaired by addressing the offender’s abuse of alcohol. Typically in a DUI court, there is prompt intake and assessment, court-ordered individualized sanctions for offenders, frequent drug and alcohol testing, treatment and aftercare services and frequent monitoring and ongoing judicial interaction with the offender. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, probation, law enforcement and treatment professionals usually function as a team to systematically change the impaired driver’s behavior. The individualized sanctions are structured to maximize the probability of rehabilitation and minimize the likelihood of recidivism.
These courts can involve specialized court calendars or dockets for individuals, juveniles or families rather than specifically designated district courts.
GHSA supports DUI courts and urges states to work with their state criminal justice agency counterparts to implement them where appropriate. GHSA also recommends that NHTSA evaluate DUI courts to determine their effectiveness.
E.13 DUI Offender Monitoring
Dedicated DUI detention facilities, home confinement and electronic monitoring, intensive supervised probation and close monitoring by individual judges have all been shown to significantly reduce recidivism by convicted DUI offenders. States should enact a DUI offender monitoring program and offenders should be required to bear some of the program costs.
E.14 Plea Bargaining and Diversion Programs
Diversion programs allow a drunk driving offense to be dropped if the offender agrees to enter an education, treatment or other rehabilitation program. Plea bargaining allows a DUI offender to avoid being convicted by accepting the penalty for a lesser or non-alcohol offense. Both of these approaches allow offenders to escape impaired driving penalties and undermine many elements of a comprehensive DUI system. States should restrict plea bargaining and limit diversion programs to first-time offenders with low BAC’s or, where possible, eliminate such programs altogether.
E.15 Court Monitoring
Court monitoring is a mechanism for tracking DUI cases to determine how many are handled within a particular time frame, how many go to trial, what kind of sentences are being handed down and whether the sentences are consistent with authorized sanctions.
It is an effective tool for strengthening the adjudication of DUI cases. States are encouraged to use court monitoring to the extent practicable.
E.16 Alcohol Screening, Assessments and Treatment
Screening and brief interventions (SBI) in emergency settings have been shown to effectively reduce a first time offender’s future alcohol consumption and the incidences in which he/she drives impaired. A comprehensive alcohol assessment can determine if an offender is an alcohol abuser. Offender assessments — including first time offenders — combined with treatment have been shown to be effective in reducing recidivism. States should enact new laws or strengthen existing laws requiring all offenders to receive a screening and brief intervention, or if warranted from the SBI results, an alcohol assessment, as soon after arrest as practicable. Where appropriate, offenders should be referred to certified treatment facilities and (except for indigent offenders) should bear of the costs of treatment.
E.17 Self-Sufficient Impaired Driving Programs
While federal impaired driving incentive grants provide an important source of funding for state impaired driving programs, the federal funding has been insufficient to meet state needs. States are encouraged to enact impaired driving programs funded by fees and fines on offenders. This source of funding can supplement federal funding and provide states with a much broader base of resources with which to fund impaired driving programs.
E.18 Underage Drinking
GHSA shares the national concern about underage drinking and joins other national organizations in addressing this pervasive problem comprehensively.
With respect to underage access to alcohol, GHSA encourages states to support a systematic approach to reducing access and availability through frequent compliance checks and programs such as Cops in Shops which are directed at the sale, purchase, and consumption of alcohol by persons under the age of 21. Sellers of alcohol to underage persons should face substantial fines and the suspension of the business or liquor license and states should consider graduated penalties which increase with each conviction. GHSA strongly opposes the internet sale and direct shipment of alcoholic beverages to underage youth and urges that steps be taken to penalize sellers who engage in such practices.
With respect to underage public policy initiatives, GHSA supports the continuation of state laws that specify zero alcohol use for drivers under age 21. GHSA strongly supports the continuation of uniform minimum drinking age of 21 and urges that such laws prohibit the purchase, possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages by those under 21, the sale or provision of alcohol to minors by adults and underage drinking in private clubs and establishments. GHSA supports beer keg registration laws that require the identity of the purchaser to be recorded and encourages states to enact such laws.
GHSA also urges states to enact or strengthen their dram shop liability laws so that commercial establishments can be held liable if they sold or provided alcohol to a minor who subsequently caused injury. States also should enact social host laws that hold parents and guardians liable for underage drinking in their house and anti happy hour laws that eliminate drink specials in which alcohol is rapidly consumed over a short period.
With respect to underage enforcement, GHSA supports programs to enforce underage drinking laws (such as shoulder tap and controlled dispersal programs) and programs that facilitate underage enforcement (such as juvenile holdover programs and teen courts). GHSA urges states and localities to use nuisance and loitering laws as a means of discouraging youth from congregating outside alcohol outlets in order to solicit adults to purchase alcohol. GHSA encourages states to strengthen efforts to prevent and detect the use of false identification by minors in order to purchase alcohol. States are also encouraged to publicize any underage drinking law that is enacted.
With respect to community interventions, GHSA urges communities to assess the underage drinking problem in their community and adopt evidence-based, effective countermeasures. NHTSA and other federal agencies should offer technical assistance to communities and encourage community assessments through materials and processes developed by GHSA and others.
With respect to college programs, colleges and universities should adopt evidence-based, comprehensive approaches to prevent underage drinking. These could include alcohol screening, educational strategies combined with other interventions, enforcement, policies that limit access to alcohol for those under 21 (particularly on campus or in the vicinity of the college or university), and social norming. NHTSA, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and other federal agencies should continue to evaluate college programs to determine which are effective and which are not.
With respect to program coordination, GHSA urges that federal underage drinking programs be coordinated through an interagency task force and that one federal agency (e.g. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) should be the designated lead agency. GHSA also urges that a federal clearinghouse on underage drinking (including drinking and driving) be established so that resources about the issue can be accessed from a single federal point of contact. The lead agency should coordinate efforts to evaluate underage interventions and should make such information widely available to states and localities and through the clearinghouse. The lead agency should also issue an annual report to Congress on the extent of underage drinking and the progress that is being made to combat this problem.
With respect to resources, GHSA urges that additional federal resources should be devoted to addressing the problem of underage drinking (and drinking and driving) in a comprehensive manner.
E.19 DUI Task Forces
States are strongly encouraged to establish statewide DUI task forces of state and local officials, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, motor vehicle administrators, treatment officials and other stakeholders deemed appropriate by the state. The DUI task force should be responsible for managing improvements in the state’s DUI system by conducting a comprehensive assessment of the state’s DUI system, establishing performance benchmarks for the system, setting up communications mechanisms between different components of the DUI system, making recommendations for improvements and ensuring that steady and reasonable progress is made in implementing the recommendations. States should periodically review the activities of the task force.
E.20 Alcohol Advertising
GHSA strongly encourages the alcohol and spirits industry to restructure advertising messages to discourage drinking and driving and to market all alcoholic beverage responsibly. GHSA offers to work with other organizations in the transportation and highway safety communities to develop plans and support for responsible corporate advertising.
In addition, GHSA opposes any advertising aimed at the underage youth market. GHSA urges the alcohol industry and its trade associations to support a voluntary alcohol advertising standard that prohibits alcohol advertising if more than 15% of the intended audience is underage. Further, GHSA urges the Federal Trade Commission or other appropriate federal agency to monitor underage exposure to alcohol advertising on a continuing basis and periodically report to Congress and the public.
E.21 Taxes on Alcoholic Beverages
GHSA is opposed to any legislative initiative to reduce the cost(s) of all regulated alcoholic beverages by lowering alcohol excise taxes. GHSA supports all efforts to reduce underage drinking and driving; therefore, the Association finds that lowering the cost(s) of all alcoholic beverage is extremely poor public policy and should not be enacted.
If states enact legislation that affects alcohol taxation, as a direct or indirect result of federal alcohol legislation, the resultant funds should be made available for impaired driving education and enforcement purposes.
E.22 Alcohol Equivalency
Federal agencies such as NHTSA and the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have adopted the definition of an alcoholic drink as: 12 oz. of beer = 5 oz. of wine = 1.5 oz. of distilled spirits such as whiskey, gin or vodka. GHSA supports public education messages designed to increase awareness of alcohol equivalency as defined by the federal government and urges state motor vehicle administrations to include alcohol equivalency information in their drivers’ manuals.
E.23 Federal Impaired Driving Training Programs
GHSA supports and encourages the certification and adoption of the NHTSA DUI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) curriculum or its equivalent and the inclusion of the curriculum or its equivalent at the required recruit and in-service police officer training levels. Additionally, GHSA supports training for judges and prosecutors on the science of impairment, enforcement laws and techniques, effective sentencing, drug impairment and other relevant impaired driving issues.
E.24 Victims’ Rights
GHSA recognizes the importance of programs that assist victims and educate the public on the impact of impaired driving on victims. The Association recommends that states coordinate such programs as part of their comprehensive effort to address the impaired driving problem in their state.
E.25 Drug-Impaired Driving
GHSA supports elevating drug-impaired driving to a national priority. GHSA encourages states to: 1) adopt drug per se (zero tolerance) drug impairment laws 2) amend statutes to provide separate and distinct sanctions for alcohol- and drug-impaired driving that could be applied individually or in combination to a single case; 3) adopt enhanced penalties for multiple (poly-) drug use (including alcohol) while driving as the combination of alcohol and other drugs should be considered an aggravated offense 4) develop standard protocols or procedures for drug testing laboratories to use in identifying drugs that impair driving; 5) provide increased training to law enforcement on identifying drugged drivers; 6) increase the testing and reporting of drug testing information on fatally injured drivers; and 7) provide increased training for prosecutors to help in the successful prosecution of drug-impaired drivers.
GHSA supports the use of the NHTSA Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) training program that trains Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) to detect and apprehend drug-impaired drivers. As a means of expanding the enforcement of drug-impaired driving laws, GHSA calls on states to train officers in the 16-hour Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) program.
GHSA believes that new technologies can help streamline drug-impaired driving enforcement and adjudication and encourages the testing industry to continue developing and improving drug testing devices so they can eventually mirror the efficiency and affordability of alcohol testing devices.
GHSA also believes more research needs to be conducted on drug impaired driving. Some of the specific issues that need to be evaluated include: the scope of the drugged driving problem, the effects of drugs on driving, the effectiveness of drugged driving per se laws in those states that have enacted such laws, the accuracy, reliability and cost-effectiveness of drug detection tests and the feasibility of establishing national standards for various controlled substances involved in drug-impaired driving.
GHSA encourages States to consider expanding their existing Administrative License Revocation (ALR) laws or enacting new ALR laws for drug-impaired drivers who fail or refuse a drug test.