Court-ordered DUI courses may not always work, officials say - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Court-ordered DUI courses may not always work, officials say

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A nationally-recognized group is trying to prevent more people from driving drunk in the state of Kentucky.

A spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving said the group is saddened by the death of a Louisville police officer and a University of Kentucky employee after an accused drunk driver hit them in Lexington.

Suzanne Whitlow is charged with two counts of manslaughter and one count of DUI connected to that weekend crash. Court records show Whitlow completed court-ordered DUI classes in early October for a 2014 DUI conviction.

Punishments for DUI convictions depend on the county and the judge. But if a driver is required to go to a DUI course, it is mandatory to complete 20 hours of class time for a first-time offender. The person will have to pay for an initial assessment, pay for the class book and pay per class.

In the assessment, the instructor will ask questions about how often a person drinks, whether or not the person uses drug and if there are any known triggers. The classes and book cover facts about alcohol, drugs and legal consequences. But it also is designed to spark discussions about what triggers a person to drink and drive, the risks they take and better choices.

“You got a lot of people that come to these classes,” said Richard Epley, the director of the Kentucky Driving School, “And they don’t think they should be here. And they have a bad attitude.”

The Kentucky Driving School is accredited by the state to teach DUI courses. Epley said there are people in the program right now for the third or fourth time.

If a person is convicted a second time, then a judge typically requires around 50 sessions. Epley said if the person follows the class guidelines and comes to every single meeting, then that person could be released after six months. If not, then that person could be required to finish a full year of classes. If it is a person’s third or fourth DUI offense, a one-year course is mandatory.

Still, according to the National Department of Transportation, about one third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving in the country are repeat offenders. Epley said whether or not someone really learns a lesson, depends on the driver.

"If they don't want to stop, the only way they're going to do it is either go to prison for however long the judge wants to put them there, or they go out and kill themselves or someone else, and they have to go to prison."

If Epley does not believe a student is following the course rules, he can make recommendations for in-patient treatment programs or tell a judge that a student is non-compliant. But any harsher punishments are ultimately up to a judge.

"Once they leave here and go home or to the nearest beer joint or whatever, we can't control that part of it,” Epley said. “It makes a difference whether someone really wants to quit or not.”

Rosalind Donald, a spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Kentucky,s he works to provide services to victims of drunk driving accidents.

"A lot of people who re-offend tend to not think of the human aspect to this crime,” Donald said.

To hit that human nerve, M.A.D.D. has created three “victim impact” panels in the state of Kentucky. At a panel, first-time offenders listen to stories from victims that lost loved ones to drunk driving. Donald said it’s already making a difference, and the group wants to expand.

"We're trying to get more judges and more prosecutors to agree to have the victim impact panel in their area,” Donald said.

She emphasized it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure people get home safely and choose responsibly to not drink and drive.

“You're rolling the dice every time you make that criminal choice to drink and drive,” Donald said.

For more information on the services M.A.D.D. offers to victims of drunk driving accidents, click here.

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