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Survive A DUI

How to get through getting a DUI - both mentally, and legally.

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The DMV Alcohol Class Section 2: Group Meetings.

Group meetings.

It sounds like the worst.

Am I going to have to go in and talk about my feelings, and cry, and get a hug from everyone, and talk about our growth and our spiritual journey, and all that other bullshit?

Thankfully: no.

It just sounds like it from the title of it. You won’t have to bond, you won’t have to talk about the first time you tried a drink, you won’t have to talk about your childhood, or anything like that.

Remember: they cannot, legally, compel you to share.

However, truth be told, I liked this part of the class much more than the instruction period. The class gets a little bigger since there’s a nine week span it covers. Mostly it’s people in your same situation trying to get through it. It’s a lot like high school in that way. Just trying to get through it to freedom. Fortunately, like high school, there will be people trying to make jokes, trying to flirt, trying to get the teacher derailed, trying to find different ways to kill time until the final bell rings.

It’s a lot more fun than watching a grandpa in a leisure suit talk about how he didn’t know his weekly brandy could affect him that much in an ancient video.

There will be a topic at hand - there’s some loose guidelines, but nothing particularly required from the state - and your instructor will talk about it. Usually something about how to go our and be responsible, or how to say no to alcohol, or how it affects the body. They’re usually built around the concepts of abstinence and temperance. They like things to be a big open question, with no clear solution except to cut down on drinking. I talked about using my own breathalyzer to prevent getting another DUI, and how the system was rigged against people by using a metric that’s difficult to understand since metering devices aren’t widely available - and was confronted with ways that wasn’t a real solution because it’s possible that you can be impaired at lesser alcohol levels (something I’ve learned is not the case for the way my body handles alcohol).

They’ll ask you about what you would do if you went out some place and got too drunk, looking for the old timely solutions (always designate a driver who won’t drink! Limit yourself to two drinks a night! or… don’t ever drink!) when confronted with modern solutions that are reliable, but allow a person to keep drinking - Uber, in particular, they would respond with “But how long can that last? How long can you just uber to some place!”. This bizarre response came from every instructor I had in the program, almost verbatim. Maybe that’s a state sanctioned thing, but given that many people are ditching driving their own cars and just ubering everywhere, I think it can last quite some time. I think they’re threatened a little bit by uber as it’s cut down on DUIs and will continue to, which threatens their business to a large degree. They’d give us the old “How do you know Uber is safe? Why not get a taxi?” which is such a bizarre argument since there’s no record of when you take a taxi. The whole thing is weird.

When discussing these things you’ll be asked about how you got your DUI, and many factors. As someone who hasn’t told many people about my DUI, it was honestly really nice to be able to share my story and get some sympathy from my peers. It was nice to openly talk about it and not be judged. It was also nice to have the instructor say that the biggest factor in mine seemed to be bad luck. It was really great to hear other people’s stories - horrible ones - about hitting parked cars, getting caught in a sting operation, getting caught by a checkpoint, one getting a DUI for being asleep in his backseat and the car parked overnight, their experience in refusing the field sobriety test, etc. Despite the instructors’ anti-Uber sentiment, I found them fair regarding people’s experiences, and expressing whether they exhibited problematic behavior (vast majority didn’t).

They’ll ask you if you’re still drinking. It is ok to be honest and say that you are. The person who had quit drinking is going to be the outlier. They’ll share their experiences, you can judge if you want to join them, cut down, or keeping on. Your drinking is your decision. Granted, it has consequences as you well know at this point. But it’s still your decision. Nobody can make it for you.

The class runs for 9 weeks for an AB-541 3-month class, and 23 weeks for a 9-month AB-1353 class, so the topics get weak sometimes - it’ll get into “what does a person need for basic survival” some weeks, “how to handle stress” another - they’ll try to tangentially relate it to the big topic - drinking and driving - but the facts are that it doesn’t take 15 weeks to tell people to not drink and drive. However, 15 weeks of a 2 hour class, is enough to make them say “fuck that, I’m not ever going through that again”, so it works as a deterrent for a second offense.

Again, get there on time and sober, pay some attention, engage when you want. Depending on the group these discussions can actually be… well, not fun, but almost fun. There were some cool and funny people in my group, so it wasn’t that bad. Tell some jokes, make some friends (that you probably won’t keep once it ends), make the time go by easier for everyone.

Again, running out the clock is the name of the game. Get through it. Get to your final evaluation, and tell them how you drink less, and plan to be more responsible and don’t want to come back (which is certainly true). Get your paper for the court, then get out.

It’s tough at first, but once you see what it’s like, you’ll be fine. Even if you’re not that social of a person.

Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

In California, to complete your AB-541 or AB-1353 class you’ll have to do either 6, or 19 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, respectively. This is just another entry into the long list of things they don’t tell you.

When I was seeking out an alcohol class the person mentioned being required to do 10 AA meetings. Naturally I called 3 other classes and asked if they required AA meetings. I just didn’t want to do them if I didn’t have to. The last person told me it was a state requirement. Never in the process had I been told about this by the court, or my lawyer. It was not a pleasant blindslide.

The AA website is terrible for giving details about where and when meetings are. I found some with conflicting start times, but you should be able to find a resource in your area to help you find some. AA is a popular organization, there’s meetings all over, and should be available in a variety of settings. If you’re in a populated area there should be a meeting any time from the early morning to late night, any day of the week. Those who commit to the program do a 30 and 30 - 30 meetings in 30 days, so there should be something to fit into your schedule.

AA is a loose organization - so meetings are very different. It may take you a while to find a meeting that works with your schedule, meets near you, and that you enjoy. The last part is the most crucial. Fortunately, I found a kind and understanding meeting near me first time. I tried another one (I tried to buck the system by going to a meditation AA meeting hoping that I could just zone for an hour and have it count. No, it’s an hour of meditation, then the hour long meeting). But take how they treat you and others into consideration - you should not be forced to speak, or share. I know I certainly didn’t want to. You should not be made to feel bad for still drinking - AA is open to anyone who wants to learn about stopping as well as those who have stopped. Even those with multiple year chips will tell you how they hate what they call “AA Nazis”.

Like DMV classes you can only go to one AA meeting a week and have it count. You are, of course, welcome to go to more, but they will only be for your own enrichment.

AA, like the DMV classes, is daunting when you first attend, and then not a big deal once you get into the groove of things. There’s the reading of certain passages from the AA handbook, then usually somebody sharing their experience or a speaker. Part of this is counterproductive. After I got my DUI I, like anyone else, started to wonder if I had a problem, if I drank too much, if I was an alcoholic. After I heard the stories from these people, I felt that I was a moderate drinker who just made a bad decision. The stories that you hear are awful. They’ll stick with you. What they like to say is that even if it doesn’t make you quit drinking, it will affect your drinking. Pretty true.

Once the meeting is over you’ll give your card to either the secretary of the meeting or the speaker depending how they do it. They call it the “nudge from the judge” and should not give you any grief over it. Even if you make it clear that you’re only there because you have to be and do not plan on attending past your requirements. AA only asks of you that you attend the meeting and listen to what they have to say, that you make your own judgements, and consider all of the options, and look to them as a resource if you want to make a change in your life.

I, of course, didn’t want to be there any of the times that I was there. But, like most of the things that you go through in this, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve been through. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes it was shocking, sometimes it was engaging. I never felt judged. Sometimes I was really inspired by some of the stories that people told. The shadow of your DUI is an awful place to be in, and it’s really helpful to see that some people have been through the process many times, but they’ve been able to bounce back and put their lives together. It’s important to see that you can bounce back.

As for it being part of the legal process, I don’t particularly like it (AA being an organization that seeks to be away from the government), but I understand it. A lot of the things that you go through in this process are there for people who have bigger problems than driving home from a night out to get a chance to find that there are recovery programs, that they can take hold of these problems and to start dealing with them. It allows you to put yourself in perspective and really gauge where you want to be in life. It is a chance to reflect and look forward. I saw that I did not have a problem, but probably should cut back, and did just that.

Some have a problem with AA’s slight religious bent. I’m not religious but did not have a problem with it, as others do (they get upset at any mention of God). The “God as you see him” is pretty non specific, non intrusive, and vague enough for everybody. Some claim that AA weens you off of an addiction to alcohol and replaces it with an addiction to religion/God. I can see that argument in theory, but in the program, and in my friends who have gone through it to quit drinking I do not see it being the case.

If you do not want to go through the program there are acceptable alternatives such as Rational Recovery, Moderation Management, etc. They’re not as available as Alcoholics Anonymous, and probably not as flexible. AA allowed me to go on my schedule and were close by (which was a great help as I was on my hard suspension and on my bike). Go with what works for you. For most people it’ll be the minimum amount of AAs, and then be done.

Like everything in this process, I do not advise waiting around. Get them over with. If you miss enough consecutive weeks in AA your DMV program can say that you’re not participating and send your case back to court. This is a bad thing. Do not let it happen. Get them over with. Yes, this does mean that in the beginning you’ll be in “classes” for 3 hours a week, and it’s a pain, but 3 hours a week is nothing when you get down to it. Yes, you have a busy life and a full schedule. Get it over with. Stay up later, get up earlier, whatever. Get it over with and move on with your life.

Don’t make things harder for yourself. Also, you might end up enjoy going to.

Heck, you might even learn something.

The DMV Alcohol Class Section 1: Alcohol Education Sessions

The first day is the hardest.

Going into the room, finding a seat, looking around and feeling embarrassed, judged, and guilty over what you’ve done. It’s not easy, you have to do it, and once you get past that, it’s all downhill from there.

Just remember, if you feel that you are being judged that everybody in there is in there for the same thing - and there’s always somebody with a worse story than you. You’ll hear them as they come out.

The first section of the class is called “alcohol education sessions” but most commonly referred to as “instruction”. It sounds like it’d be a bunch of straight lessons, drawings on a chalkboard, and an endless, droning lecture.

It’s not.

Most of the instruction period is watching videos about drinking and driving. One they’ll show some people driving, and then give them some drinks and let them drive again and they’ll be “shocked” at their different outcomes. Some detail teenagers who had their lives taken, one I saw was about “spirituality” and how if you don’t have it you must be depressed and that will lead you to drugs, alcohol, and ruin (one guy had a real problem with that and let the teacher have it about this, it was pretty cool). Most of the videos you watch will have been made in the 70’s, so you’ll be watching people unable to control vehicles that don’t have power steering. Real relevant.

When you sit down, remember that everyone around you is beginning this process with you. There will be somebody on their last part of this program (their sixth class), but the majority of them are people that you’ll see once a week for quite some time. Make friends, talk to them. Some of them will have questions about the process that you know the answers to, some of them will be able to answer your questions (Like what a good IID place is). If it’s also somebody else’s first week, tell them. It’s a lot easier to go through this with a friend.

Sit down, go through attendance (which takes a while, but is the most important part - get checked in!), watch the video, don’t talk, don’t play on your phone, and you’ll get through it. It’s not the worst thing in the world. Afterwards, there’s a discussion about the video, and eventually they let you go. No real, hard lessons, no quizzes, that’s it. Adult time out. Remember that.

They give you a break sometime, and some programs are lenient enough to let you go the whole class and take the break at the end - letting you out early (my favorite).

The discussions won’t be that involved, usually somebody will have some sort of question about the legal procedure you’re going through and that’ll derail the discussion into something actually useful, so it’ll be pretty welcome. Just be warned: your instructor is not the expert you would hope they would be in these matters, and certainly not a lawyer. One kept telling us ways that we could violate our probation, and it was just a bunch of urban myths “If you’re sober and you have a drunk person in your car they can charge you with a DUI!” - they didn’t know the difference between a probation violation and a DUI, which really took their stock down in my book (a refresher on what a probation violation is here).

That said, your instructor and you are in this together - you both want to kill time and get out of there as soon as possible. They’d read to us email forwards about drinking and driving, and usually somebody would raise their hand and tell them how they’re full of shit (i.e. them telling us that getting a DUI in a different country would give us an automatic 5 years in jail, and somebody who actually lived there explaining that it couldn’t be farther from the truth). You want to believe they have an authority, but really they’re somebody who works in substance recovery and needed some more hours. I would not take legal advice from them.

In both a 3 Month (Ab-541) and 9-Month (AB-1353) class it’s just six weeks of classes. Nothing too big.

Do what I did - put your head down, don’t make waves, don’t fight them, and get through it.

Get it done.

The DMV Alcohol Class - An Overview

Part of “repaying your debt to society” involves taking either a 3-month (AB-541) or a 9-month (AB-1353) alcohol awareness class (If you luck out and get a Wet Reckless you’ll still have to take a 12 hour SB-1176 class. In rare instances you’ll have to take a 6 Month AB-768 or 18 month SB-38 class). The 3 month AB-541 is for standard DUIs, the 9-month AB-1353 is for people who refused the field sobriety test, or received elevated penalties for an excessively high BAC (usually double the legal limit) or were underage when they were arrested.

You’ll have roughly a year to do this (check your documents! Some people are required to enroll within 21 days of sentencing, and yes you can enroll before you’re sentenced), but I recommend getting it out of the way. There’s no good reason to wait. The DMV will generally require you to be enrolled to get your restricted license, if you want one, and will require you to complete the course if you want your full license restored after your suspension (both limited and full). If you have travel plans you can schedule a leave of absence, it’s actually somewhat flexible. Get it done. Get it over with.

Calling it a “class” is a bit of a misnomer - there will be no tests, no quizzes, no real education being provided. Odds are you’ve learned your lesson - the biggest motivator to not get another DUI is not wanting to go through this garbage again. Think of this as what it is - Adult Time Out. You were bad, so they’re going to punish you like you were a child - go sit in this classroom and think about what you did.

It’s a pain, it’s not fun, but you have to do it. Get it over with. You’ll actually be surprised at how quickly the class will pass by once you’ve gotten in the routine of going.

How the class works

The class works by wasting your time, giving you a practical consequence to your actions. It’s split into two sections - instruction and group sessions. At the beginning, middle, and end you will be interviewed, asked questions about your drinking. The questions will be pretty simple and you will know what answers they’re looking for. Additionally, you’ll have to attend some AA meetings.

It’s a pain in the ass and waste of time, but I understand why they make you go through all of this. For problem drinkers they want this to be an opportunity to turn their life around, to spend some time consciously thinking about their drinking, and perhaps decide that it’s time to stop or take an active role in cutting down. Most people do not fall into those categories, but they’re hoping that by putting everybody through this process that some will be able to turn their lives around.

All of the classes are pretty much the same - they have to stick to a set of state guidelines. Make a few calls and see how much it costs, what installment plans are offered (most of them have you pay a large amount up front then a set amount each week as you come in. You are, of course, welcome to get ahead of payment), what their tardy policy is, makeup fees etc. There’s not too much difference in how they’re run, but those slight differences can mean a world of difference if you have to take time off or are chronically late. If you get a good feeling or bad feeling go with it, but things won’t be too much different. I’d pick the one that’s the easiest to get to from where I’ll be at the time since attendance makes up most of the issues you’ll have with the class.

Additionally - if you have some time on your hands you can’t just go to a bunch of classes in a week and get credit. You have to go at the regular intervals. You can’t get ahead. You can certainly get behind - 3 absences in a row and they’ll send your case back to the court and things will get messy. Avoid this. Go to school.

How you are “graded” in class

The biggest grade you will get in this class is attendance. Just show up. Show up on time - as some places are very strict about timeliness. One minute past start time and you won’t be able to take the class and are forced to take an absence (along with paying an absence fee). Others are a little bit more lenient. Ask before signing up what their late policy is. It may save you money. Be there on time, sign in when the teacher allows it. That’s 90% of getting through the class.

Be sober. If the instructors feel that you’re under the influence they can refuse your attendance. This becomes a mark on your record, and you’ll have to make up the class. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Most programs ask that you try to quit drinking for the duration of the class, but do not check, do not enforce this, and most will openly say that most of their “client” (not students) continue to drink during the program. As long as you don’t drink before/during class, you’re fine. A lot of discussion time pertains to how your drinking habits have changed after your DUI and during your class, so don’t be afraid to admit that you’re still partaking.

As long as you’re there, sober, and not causing problems you’ll be fine. They’ll force you to put your phone away, just put it in your pocket. Most of the disciplinary issues I saw while taking the class were related to the phone. Use it at break. Sit down and at least pretend to pay attention.

During class you’ll see the instructor cycling through large files - these are files about you and your fellow classmates. They’ll be taking notes about your attitude, responsiveness, etc. They can write anything they want, you won’t see these remarks, and they’ll be sealed unless you have another alcohol-related incident (Should that happen and injuries/fatalities be involved, they’ll have to testify about you taking the class and your demeanor during the class). I caught a glimpse at one of mine, it said I was “aloof, but participated when asked” for a class. I’d guess this is what most of the notes are.

Overall there’s 3 “grades” you may receive: 1) Participated fully - meaning that you engaged in the discussion at hand. 2) Paid attention, but did not participate - still a good mark, the instructors cannot compel you to participate in the discussion, but as long as you’re paying attention, you will receive credit for your attendance. 3.) Did not pay attention - if it seems like you’re a million miles away, wearing headphones, fall asleep, etc. they can choose to not count your attendance that day. If you go make it count. You don’t have to be the life of the class, just speak up a little bit, or nod in agreement with things. Don’t be shy, you’ll not see these people again. Make it count.

The Various DMV Classes

I can only speak on the class I took - the AB-541 class, so you’ll have to bear with me on the others, as I don’t want to get more DUIs and learn about them firsthand! (these were accurate at time of writing - not sure how they may have changed)

The 12 Hour SB-1176 Class

This is the class you take if you’re lucky and only received a wet reckless charge. You’ll take 6 Alcohol Education Sessions (Instruction), with the 3-month and 9-month people, then when they move to group sessions, you’ll say goodbye. You’ll meet with the instructor at the beginning and the end, talk about how the six weeks has changed you, blah, blah, blah.

Six weeks is nothing, it costs remarkably less. Watch six videos, and in the discussion afterwards, mention how you only have a 12-hour, and watch all your classmates’ faces drop, and be asked how you got away with it for the remainder of class.

The 3 Month AB-541

This is the basic class. You’ll get this for your vanilla DUI charge if you have no enhanced penalties, no record, etc. To get this, you’ll have to submit to the field sobriety test, if you refuse, you’re not going to get this.

It breaks down as such:
6 2-Hour Alcohol Education Sessions (Instruction)
9 2-Hour Group Sessions
3 short Individual meetings with your instructor
6 AA Meetings

As I went through these, I have them detailed:
Section 1: Alcohol Education Sessions
Section 2: Group Meetings

The 6 month AB-768

This is for people who have a BAC above .15, but below .20. It’s a very narrow category, and seems to be used very sparingly, with most instances bumping you up to the 9 Month class. I can’t find many details, but I’m guess it’s the same as the 3 month, but has more group sessions.

The 9 Month AB-1353

This is the class you get if you received enhanced penalties for an accident, large BAC, or refusal to take the field sobriety test. I did not go through this program, but the components are the same as the 3 Month, so I have my thoughts in those.

6 2-Hour Alcohol Education Sessions (Instruction)
23 2-Hour Group Sessions
6 short Individual meetings with your instructor
19 AA Meetings

At some places you’re given gaps with this, so every 9 weeks or so, you’ll have a week off. A small break to catch.

The 18 Month SB-38

This is the program for multiple offenders. Do whatever you can to not find yourself in this situation. It’s administered for the second, third, and fourth convictions.

6 2-Hour Alcohol Education Sessions (Instruction)
52 2-Hour Group Sessions
Bi-weekly Individual meetings with your instructor
You’ll have a court ordered amount of AA meetings.

30 Month Program

This is a very special program that you have to get your lawyer to negotiate for you. It can only come with your third or fourth convictions (again, don’t get here). The negotiation is usually that instead of doing 120 days in jail, you’ll do 30 days in jail, and 30 months of the program. Take the SB-38 and add some more group sessions and you’ve got the idea.

For your fourth conviction the judge can order this at his discretion, especially if you’ve had the 30 month program before.