July 24, 2007 -- When Lindsay Lohan was arrested early Tuesday morning, it marked the second time in less than two months that the actress was investigated for suspected driving under the influence.
Now, a new study suggests that immediately taking the driver's licenses away from DUI suspects like Lohan could save hundreds of lives a year.
The findings, released Tuesday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Evaluation, showed that immediate suspension of a DUI offender's license -- as opposed to delayed suspension -- was associated with a 5 percent lower fatal car crash rate, saving about 800 lives each year.
"That difference can be directly attributed to these laws," said epidemiologist Alexander Wagenaar of the University of Florida, the study's lead author.
The researchers arrived at the conclusion after examining fatal alcohol-related crashes from 1976 to 2002 in 46 states, 38 of which enacted immediate license suspension laws during this time.
Under such laws, a police officer at the scene is authorized to take away an intoxicated driver's license. The driver then receives a temporary permit, which allows drivers in some states to use their license on a restricted basis for a brief period, during which the driver can appeal the suspension. In other states, drivers are prohibited from driving at all during the suspension period.
The study's authors believe that the speed of the punishment is what makes immediate suspensions so effective.
"Consequences that occur close in time to the behavior are more reinforcing or punishing than those that occur later," they wrote in their paper.
So far, 41 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to immediately suspend a driver's license when the person has been caught drunk behind the wheel.
These laws, enacted during the early 1980s, were aimed specifically at reducing the number of deaths from alcohol-related vehicle accidents, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
However, nine states still do not have immediate suspension. In those states, any suspension comes later, only after the driver is convicted.
Wagenaar said he hoped his study would lead those nine remaining states to enact immediate suspension laws as well.
"If they want to reduce the burden of alcohol-related vehicular accidents in their states, they should enact similar policies," he said.
A Number of Factors Involved
Adrian Lund, the president of IIHS, is confident of the positive effects of immediate license suspensions. He said results of the University of Florida study are in line with numbers the IIHS found in earlier studies.
"It's one of the legal changes that I think has had the most consistent beneficial effects," he said.
He added that a number of factors, including the immediate license suspensions, contributed to the drop in drunken driving deaths during the 1980s. These included laws that meant blood-alcohol limit alone was enough for a conviction -- meaning that a drunken driver could not sway the jury by appearing sober and well dressed in a courtroom a month after the incident.
Additionally, Lund said, the increased drinking age reduced the number of teenagers driving under the influence and Mothers Against Drunk Driving made DUI something that was not socially acceptable.
These advances, he explained, not only took drunken drivers off the roads but dissuaded others from driving after a few drinks.
"Everyone knows about it, and it's the fear that you will lose your license and it will be taken away immediately," Lund said.
Encore Performance for Lohan
California, the state in which Lohan holds her license, was among the states receiving the highest quality rating for their DUI laws from the IIHS -- a merit garnered by only 18 other states.
However, the fact that Lohan's license had already been suspended following a previous DUI car accident brings up another interesting facet of the problem -- offenders that continue to drive even after their licenses have been suspended.
"We're always looking for something that completely solves the problem," said Wagenaar. "That's essentially never achievable.
"Some people with suspended licenses continue to drive, and thus continue to create these risks."