Let’s start the new year with some good news.
Since the early 1980s, when reforms were initiated nationally and in Michigan, the number of deaths and serious injuries from drunk driving accidents has been reduced by about 50 percent.
Now some bad news. Drunk driving remains a problem as is seen by the fact that more than 50 percent of all fatal highway accidents are still caused by an intoxicated driver.
Returning to the positive, the progress made over the years to address not only the fatalities but drunk driving generally is the result of many things including the passage of tougher laws with more severe penalties, stricter enforcement and alcohol education.
Of course, there is always room for improvement and one critical area of concern is repeat offenders.
For example 33 percent of all drivers arrested for or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders.
Additionally a repeat offender is 4.1 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
Michigan is a leader in recognizing this issue and in 2011 enacted a statute creating “Sobriety Courts,” which are specifically structured for repeat offenders.
The stated goal of Sobriety Courts is to enhance public safety by providing the tools, resources and support necessary for alcohol dependent offenders to attain and maintain sobriety.
This is accomplished by using a team approach with the judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, law enforcement, and substance abuse counselors all giving guidance and education to the defendants on how to change their behavior during a period of intensive probation.
The probation includes 12-step meetings, drug and alcohol testing, counseling, and weekly court appearances. Jail time can be imposed for those who don’t comply.
The benefits to a defendant include obtaining a restricted driver’s license and the chance to be sober.
The public also benefits with Sobriety Court graduates being four times less likely to have a new offense within three years of admission to the program.
Time has shown that Sobriety Courts are indeed a success story.
Michigan currently has 23 Sobriety Courts with one of them being in Genesee County presided over by 67th District Court Judge Vickie Bayeh-Haley.