DUI Facts

DUI Facts

Is it the case that a fairly small number of chronic, chemically-dependent persons account for almost all the impaired driving violations that occur in a year? Or, are most of the offenders “first-timers?” How many first-time violators are there? How many repeat violators (recidivists) are there? Among the repeat offenders, how many have one, two, three, and so on, prior violations?

It is possible to look at all the incidents, and at all persons who incurred incidents, in a year, based on the number of incidents prior to the one being counted in the year. This will produce measures of recidivism based on violators’ past histories.

Age and recidivism

Recidivism measures based on past history could be misleading, though. Older violators have had much more time and opportunity to recidivate than young violators: 23% of violators in their twenties have prior incidents, compared to 34% of those in their thirties, 42% of those in their forties, 50% of those in their fifties, and 51% of those 60 and older.

In the 1990’s there was a mini-population explosion among persons in their twenties — the “echo” of the baby-boom generation. This dramatic increase in the young-violator population might make it appear that first-time violators are increasing, and that recidivism is decreasing, when in fact those young first-time violators might, as the years go by, recidivate just as much as older violators have. It is possible to select cohorts of violators from past years and follow them forward in time, thus providing prospective measures of recidivism.


To measure recidivism in terms of prior incidents, three issues require definition: (1) what is the definition of “impaired driving incident”? (2) what is the “look-back period” over which prior incidents are counted? And (3), what is being counted —incidents, or the persons who commit them?

(1) Defining an incident: An incident may be defined more broadly as either an implied consent violation or an impaired driving criminal conviction, or, more narrowly, requiring that the incident include the impaired driving criminal conviction. The ratios of first-time to repeat violations are similar, but there were 6,683 fewer incidents in 2013 when the narrower definition is used.

(2) Length of look-back period: Minnesota Statute defines impaired driving offenses as misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, or felonies

based in part on how many prior incidents the person had over specified lengths of time. But a person may have had incidents before the specified time periods.

Recidivists commit less than half of the violations

If a person arrested for a second or subsequent offense is defined as a recidivist, then, depending on other definitions, recidivists committed somewhere between 27 and 41 percent of the 2013 incidents. Under the broader definition and using a lifetime look-back period, recidivists committed 41% of the incidents (and first-time violators 59%). Under the narrower definition, and using the nine-to-ten-year look-back period, recidivists committed 27% of the incidents (and first-time violators 73%).

Taking a step back, one could say that first-time violators accounted for well over half the impaired driving violations in 2013. Since repeat DWI offenders get so much attention, due to sometimes accumulating so many arrests and convictions, it is worthwhile to remember that, currently, the novice is the more typical offender.