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DWI Courts: A Necessary Component in the Battle to End Impaired Driving

David Wallace, the Traffic Safety Guy, international expert on DWI (Driving While Impaired/Intoxicated) Courts, discusses what DWI Courts are and why they are needed to reduce impaired driving by substance-addicted individuals.

Impaired Driving is a Global Problem

Justice Speaks
1.2 million people are arrested for impaired driving in the U.S.

Impaired driving kills. The answer to ending impaired driving is: Stop drinking and driving. While a simple statement, the solution is far from effortless. Because a broad spectrum of individuals are arrested for DWI, different responses are required. In the United States, two-thirds of those arrested will not repeat the crime of impaired driving.  The arrest and conviction are sufficient wake-up calls. However, some individuals are addicted to alcohol or other drugs, and the traditional approaches do not work. They continue to drink, then drive, to be arrested and convicted. It becomes an unending cycle, as jail or prison does not change an addicted individual’s behavior. For this specific group of offenders, a different approach is needed. That different approach is a DWI Court.

Format of a DWI Court

DWI Courts are different from traditional courts. Based on the Drug Court model, DWI Courts hold repeat DWI offenders accountable and get them to become law abiding citizens by using long-term treatment and intensive supervision. In other words, DWI Courts go after the root cause, the addiction, by providing a comprehensive approach.

DWI Courts are team-oriented, with a Judge as the leader of the team.  Also represented on the team are:

  • Prosecutor
  • Defense counsel
  • Treatment provider
  • Court Coordinator
  • Probation officer, and
  • Law enforcement officer


Using treatment to address the why, the court uses its authority to help ensure that the person follows through by attending all treatment sessions, providing frequent and random samples for alcohol and drug testing, meeting with the judge on a regular basis, and following through with any other court orders specific to the individual (attending school, looking for a job, etc.). Everyone on the team is focused on making sure the offender complies with the court’s requirements.

DWI Courts
A judge is the team leader

If an offender fails to comply, there are swift and certain consequences that increase in severity if the defendant continues to fail. And, if a person is doing everything correctly, and following the court’s orders – there are incentives or positive responses, including applause, praise, or even small gift cards. The importance of positive responses should not be underestimated, because over the long-term they are more effective in changing a person’s behavior than using negative-only responses.

Change is Hard

During this episode David also discusses the difficulties of changing a particular behavior. Most people forget that change is hard. It takes focus and continued effort to change a past habit. Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but very few are successful in the endeavor. Others no longer bother to make a resolution because of past failures. Now, add in an addiction to a chemical substance, especially one as socially acceptable as alcohol, and a behavioral change becomes even more difficult. But with a team of supporters holding a person accountable and always recognizing the positive efforts, change is possible.

DWI Courts are changing individuals—one person at a time—for a lifetime. And that is change worth understanding and supporting.

Have you seen a DWI Court?  What did you think?

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