DUI School & Alcohol Treatment Programs

Drunk driving accidents claim more than 10,000 lives each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As a way of addressing the problem, many state court systems are shifting their focus toward providing treatment options as opposed to punishment alone. The range of treatment opportunities and legal requirements varies from state to state, but all 50 states and the District of Columbia require some sort of alcohol education or treatment as part of the legal consequences for committing a drinking and driving offense. Here is a general overview of how alcohol classes may be able to help lessen the severity of a drunk driving conviction.

What Is Drunk Driving Education?

Alcohol education classes are mandatory for DUI convictions in every state and Washington, D.C. That is usually the case even if you've been able to plead down to a lesser charge like reckless driving. The most commonly referred program is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which is also the oldest. The NHTSA website includes a searchable database of court- and/or DMV-approved alcohol education programs for each state.

In the context of court, the judge's order of drunk driving education has three parts:

  • Initial evaluation by a state-certified substance abuse specialist
  • Following the recommendations of the treatment facility and the court
  • Showing proof of successfully completing the program

An official evaluation for the court may be slightly different than the regular intake process for voluntary treatment. Typically, you'll need to provide a copy of your driving record, criminal history, and arrest report. You'll also have to submit to a drug screening and fill in a questionnaire about your history with alcohol and drug use. Based on this evaluation, the counselor will write an assessment and recommendations to be submitted to the court.

The resulting evaluation will place you in one of three categories, each with a program recommendation:

  1. Drug and/or substance dependent with a high potential for abuse – This designation usually comes with a recommendation for long-term treatment in a residential facility, which can be from 30 days to two years.
  2. At-risk – Those who are deemed at-risk typically have more than one alcohol-related driving offense on their record. The most common recommendation is outpatient treatment and/or weekly sessions with a counselor or group sessions with a program like AA.
  3. Low risk – This is usually the finding for someone who is a first-time offender with no history of substance abuse issues. An order to attend court-approved alcohol education classes is the common recommendation.

The judge will then take the assessment into consideration along with your willingness to cooperate, your criminal history, and your ability to take responsibility for your actions before deciding your sentence. Based on the judge's determination and your level of cooperation, your penalties might increase or you may receive a deferred sentence pending successful program completion.

Types of DUI Education

More awareness of the problem has also encouraged states to find better solutions. There is now a range of DUI education programs that are designed to meet the personal and legal circumstance of those in their jurisdiction. The goal of alcohol education classes is to prevent a recurrence while providing information about the impact of drinking and driving. The options are, in order of severity:

  • Classroom instruction, either in person or online
  • Group or individual counseling sessions
  • Outpatient treatment programs
  • Residential treatment facilities

State Alcohol Treatment Laws

Recent statistics note that 36 percent of all substance abuse treatment referrals come from the criminal justice system. That accounts for about 655,000 referrals out of the nearly 2 million each year. Since the passage of Proposition 36 in 2000, the state of California has offered treatment programs as an alternative to serving jail time.

The minimum requirement in all 50 states and the District of Columbia is completion of either a state-sponsored education program like the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program or attendance at a program like AA, which is the minimum standard in California. Most states will allow out-of-state DUI defendants to take an equivalent alcohol education course in their home state if one is available. Currently, there are 24 states that won't accept certificates from online drunk driving education programs, including:

  • New York
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Michigan

DUI School Eligibility

Despite the availability of treatment programs, your eligibility for DUI school is not guaranteed. A judge may find you ineligible based on several factors that include:

  • Current state law
  • Number and severity of offenses
  • Your blood alcohol content at the time of arrest
  • Exacerbating factors like accidents resulting in severe injury or death
  • Prior program participation

A good example is the state of California, which has set a standard for how to treat DUI offenses. State programs separate defendants into several categories with specific penalties for each designation.

The 1st Offender Program breaks down by blood alcohol content:

  • BAC below .08 percent: Wet & Reckless class participation
  • BAC below .15 percent: 3-month program
  • BAC of 0.15 – 0.19 percent: 6-month program
  • BAC of .20 percent or higher: 9-month program

DUI education may play a part in reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road and saving lives. It can also help reduce your liability and the severity of your punishment.

Speak to an Experienced Drunk Driving Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drunk driving lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drunk driving attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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