DUI Classes in California: How it Works & FAQs

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In 1978, California enacted legislation to establish statewide driving-under-the-influence (DUI) programs. Their mission: to cut back on the number of DUI offenses and give Golden State residents a golden opportunity to address substance abuse issues not just on the road, but in their personal and professional lives.

Beyond these broader goals, DUI classes cater to a range of individual circumstances and vary significantly in their content loads. And, they're collectively still going strong – per 2018 Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) reports, 91.1 percent of first-time DUI offenders in California are ordered by courts to complete DUI programs, making them a key part of ongoing DUI management 40 years after their creation.

What Are DUI Classes in California?

Across the state, California hosts a network of DUI treatment programs – with 290 licensed providers, per 2020 figures from the California Health and Human Services Agency – that offer education and counseling to drivers convicted of DUI offenses. Different programs cater to first-, second- and third-time offenders, and beyond. The key aim of these programs is to reduce recidivism, but they also offer vital benefits to participants, including the means to regain their driving privileges and to comply with court orders. While in class, participants receive proof of enrollment in the DUI program and proof of completion upon successfully finishing the courses by the specified date, both of which help the DMV certify the enrollee's class compliance.

On a more personal level, the counseling provided by DUI programs can assist enrollees suffering from substance abuse issues, an essential aspect that not only targets recidivism, but focuses on personal rehabilitation. Aside from bolstering the participant's emotional stability through various forms of counseling, DUI programs can assist in maintaining the individual's work, family and community life. As for life after class, the programs also strive to equip their alum with the skills and knowledge to lead drug- and alcohol-free lives independently.

Are There Different Types of Classes?

The short answer here is yes. Each California county lays out the structure of the locality's DUI programs, but all DUI program providers must be licensed by the state of California and also meet the standards of California's Health and Safety Code, federal confidentiality laws and regulations imposed by the State Department of Health Care Services. Online DUI classes, despite their accessibility, do not meet these state licensing requirements.

Across the state, DUI education programs fall into four basic types, all of which feature a combination of in-person lectures, video learning and group discussion or counseling:

  • Wet reckless programs: Persons convicted of reckless driving with a measurable amount of alcohol in their blood are obligated to complete this basic, 12-hour DUI program.
  • First-offender programs: The first DUI offense leads to bigger program responsibilities. This state-licensed drug and alcohol education and counseling course spans 30 hours over three months. If the driver's blood alcohol content is 0.20 or higher, the program requirements are bumped up to 60 hours over nine months, with programs adding more focus on rehabilitative lifestyle changes.
  • 18-month programs: Programs for second-time DUI offenders in California span 18 months and include 52 hours of group counseling, 12 hours of drug and alcohol education, six hours of community reentry monitoring and biweekly progress interviews for the first 12 months.
  • 30-month programs: For third-time and subsequent DUI offenders, the county may opt to provide a 30-month DUI program. A more intensive version of the 18-month program, this format encompasses 78 hours of group counseling, 12 hours of drug and alcohol education and regular individual interviews, plus 120 to 300 hours of community service.

How Much Does It Cost?

In California, DUI offenders foot the bill for their own DUI education programs. Just as the content of the classes differs in scale with the offense, so do the prices for DUI programs. Specific fees vary by program provider, but estimated 2020 figures from Ventura County programs reported by Shouse California Law Group provide an idea of what to expect.

At the bottom, 12-hour classes for wet reckless offenders clock in at around $270. That goes up to the ballpark of $843 for three-month programs, while nine-month classes run up a bill of roughly $1,850 in Ventura County. At the highest end, 18-month programs for repeat offenders cost between $1,900 and $2,600, and the 30-month course is estimated at $3,000. On top of these costs, many programs require a deposit of about $350.

Is a Marijuana DUI a Thing?

According to California Vehicle Code Section 23152(e), it is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle. To put it simply, the "under-the-influence" part of DUI encompasses any intoxicating drug, whether it's recreationally legal, illegal or even medically prescribed. As criminal defense attorney Negin Yamini's Los Angeles DUI Attorney office points out on their website, a conviction for DUI marijuana in California brings identical penalties as does driving under the influence of alcohol or an intoxicating drug other than marijuana.

So, yes, that means that a marijuana DUI is punishable by attendance in a DUI class, in addition to the possibility of fines, probation, jail time and license suspension just like an alcohol-based DUI. And just like a "regular" DUI, the DUI program requirements rocket up to 18 to 30 months on the second offense and up to 30 months on a third offense and more. Just as the DUI offense isn't unique to marijuana, nor are the programs; the classes are the same as those required of alcohol offenders.

But I Heard...

In the El Dorado state, there's plenty of room for gossip, and DUI programs are no exception. Right off the bat, Barbara Aday-Garcia, Executive Director at the California Association of DUI Treatment Programs clears up one of the most common misconceptions: "DUI programs in California are not traffic school, they are a specialized substance abuse treatment program designed specifically for the DUI offender." The substance use disorder counselors providing the programs are registered or certified by the California Department of Health Care Services or another approved certifying agency, which is certainly not something that traffic schools can guarantee.

Aday-Garcia also nips in the bud the notion that DUI programs put a strain on the taxpayer: "The intent of the California State Legislature in developing the legislation that created the California DUI treatment system was to have a treatment system for DUI offenders that would be self-funded. All services would be paid for by the individual program participant at no taxpayer expense." And that's a pretty low price to pay for what the DMV notes is a program that potentially lowers the individual DUI offender re-offense rate by over 20 percent.