Russell Hebets Dec. 28, 2011

When handling DUI cases in Colorado our firm deals with many people who are moving to Colorado who have prior DUI convictions in other states. Many other states, including North Carolina, suspend habitual DUI offenders’ licenses for a lifetime, while in Colorado even the worst offender can still get their license back. First, I’d like to examine the legal differences in license revocation between Colorado and North Carolina. Second, there will be a discussion of the much larger question of whether or not lifetime revocation statutes like North Carolina’s are effective in preventing drunk driving and drunken driving accidents.

In Colorado for a DUI offense itself a third or more DUI offense only results in a 24 month license suspension; this chart summarizes the DUI penalties well. If a person has three major traffic offenses (which includes, DUI, Driving under a restrained license, reckless driving, vehicular assault and homicide, etc.) within a seven year period their license can be revoked for five years. This situation is the most comparable to North Carolina’s statute 20‑138.5 which describes the punishment for habitual impaired driving in the state of North Carolina. In this instance when a person receives three or more convictions for driving while impaired they can lose their license permanently.

One peculiarity in Colorado law is that when a person who has a license that is under restraint in another state applies for a license in Colorado they may still receive a license. Despite the interstate driver license compact according to CCR 204-116 Colorado will examine a suspended license as if the suspension happened in Colorado. That means for a North Carolina driver serving a lifetime revocation after five years they would be eligible for a license in Colorado. Colorado thus not only allows its own citizens to never lose their license permanently, but also grants the privilege to anyone who applies.

Many states have varying punishments for different crimes. The far more important question is which of these justice approaches better protects the public. There are many different ways to attempt to measure the effectiveness of lifetime revocations; the number of persons who stop driving, the number of DUI arrests, or the number of fatal accidents involving alcohol. Each of these will be considered.

First, the Department of Transportation tracks the number of accidents that involve alcohol in each state and has kept these statistics since 1982. The reason for keeping these statistics was to study alcohol related traffic accidents, and hopefully to reduce their occurrence. These statistics do track some accidents where no DUI occurred, but they are a proximate measure of DUI related accidents. When the data began, 63% of all fatalities in both states were alcohol related. However, the Colorado data shows that 2009 the last available year where data was available 38% of all fatalities were alcohol related. North Carolina on the other hand has reduced their accidents to 33% of the total. Looking at some other states data like Florida and Illinois who both also have lifetime revocations Colorado has higher DUI fatalities by percentage. While this correlation cannot prove causation it does seem to indicate that lifetime revocations may help reduce alcohol related vehicular fatality.

Second, there have been some excellent studies regarding the effectiveness of revocations in stopping persons from driving. A review by Lenton, Fetherston, and Cercarelli suggests that about 75% of people suspended will drive at some point during their suspension. While this may seem discouraging it does mean that one-fourth of all suspended persons abide by the suspension, which would still produce results. The study also suggests that many suspended drivers reduce their overall driving which should also increase safety.

Third, DUI arrests can be compared between the two states. Some might say North Carolina does pursue DUI arrests more aggressively than almost any other state in the union, and they arrest the fourth most total number of persons for DUI each year. According to the FBI North Carolina arrested 50,907 while Colorado arrested 27,833. However, on a per capita basis North Carolina makes .0054 DUI arrests per citizen and Colorado makes .0055 arrests per citizen, which are fairly comparable. This fact could have several implications. It might be true that less persons drive drunk in North Carolina but their enforcement is stronger which is why the rates are comparable, but it might also mean that Colorado is enforcing DUI laws just as stringently as North Carolina.

Overall, it appears that lifetime driver’s license revocations may reduce the risk of drunk driving. Even if we only give credit to the fact that 25% of persons follow revocations this policy would still reduce the potential number of recidivist drunk drivers on the roads.