Michigan Celebrates a Drunk Driving Solution That Really Works: Sobriety Court

Not everyone was convinced it would work. After all, the best way to deal with drunk drivers is to take away their license, fine them, punish them, and warn them not to do it again. Right?

are sobriety courts the solution for drunk drivingApparently a number of Michigan counties thought better; they instead they instituted a Sobriety Court system. A sobriety court, DWI court, or treatment court is a non-traditional court that focuses on offenders with medical and social problems that lead to their run-ins with the judicial system. These can include drunk drivers, drug addicts, and people with post traumatic stress disorder.

The courts take a collaborative approach: a drunk driver might be supervised by an alcohol treatment professional, and would also be required to have an ignition interlock installed in his or her vehicle. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The courts have been a success. Last Thursday a press event in Lansing highlighted the role of sobriety courts and ignition interlocks in reducing drunk driving. Another event was held in Kalamazoo, and a Wayne County judge announced his personal support for the program as well.

Why all the celebration? It’s because the ignition interlock/DWI court combination works! The benefits are many and compelling:

  • The supervision of the court ensures compliance with the interlock requirement. In non-supervised settings, a large percentage of offenders do not comply with the interlock order.
  • The interlock ensures that an offender retains driving privileges, and can therefore get to treatment.
  • The expense of incarceration is avoided.
  • Offenders can maintain or improve their employment situation, which would not be possible without the interlock and supervision.

happy sober driversAll in all, sobriety courts save money, strengthen communities rather than disrupt them, and reduce recidivism dramatically. They increase compliance with ignition interlock requirements, and increase completion of alcohol treatment programs. No program has a 1000 batting average, but sobriety courts are as close to a magic bullet as anything we’ve found so far.

Michigan is on to something, and they know it. It’s up to the other 49 states to read the reports and start instituting their own sobriety courts on a wider scale. The program is a winner for offenders, the state, and society at large.