Little Changes at Secretary of State Mean a Lot
Michael G. Brock, MA, LMSW
In December the Administrative Hearing Section of the Secretary of State made some subtle changes to their evaluation form that may not seem like a big deal, but might be the difference between a person getting his or her license reinstated and have to wait another year and try again. The SUBSTANCE ABUSE EVALUATION form is now the SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS EVALUATION. Other than the title, the only real change in the form is the order of information requested, and that the relapse history has been replaced by a section titled "Periods of Abstinence" and "Abated by What?" Meaning the cause of the relapse; i.e., quit going to AA meetings and began hanging around drinking/using friends.
In practice, the biggest changes seem to be that the hearing officers are digging into the appellant's background more than in the past, and they are interested in any substance the person has ever taken, including those taken for only a brief time recreationally and a long time ago.
When doing evaluations now I find myself focusing on two things more than in the past: first, making sure clients list every drug they have used, however briefly, and making sure they tell me any crime they have committed that may have been, however tangentially, related to the use of alcohol or other substances. If the hearing officer has this information available to him and the client has not disclosed; or if the client discloses to the hearing officer something that is not mentioned in the evaluation, he is likely to have a problem getting his license back because he will not be seen as forthcoming.
Another change taking place is that those who have driven for a year with an interlock device without problems are being encouraged to obtain an administrative review rather than having a hearing. The intention seems to be a more or less rubber stamp approval of these appeals. Hardship licenses will also be easier to obtain without out an appeal hearing in new legislation scheduled to take effect at the end of October, but a breathalyzer will be required, and that can only be removed through an appeal hearing.
But the State giveth and the State taketh away, so while it might be easier for some to get their license back, the so-called "super drunk" first offenders who blow .17 or higher on the breathalyzer face a mandatory 45 day suspension for their first offense, and a year with restricted driving privileges; and anyone attempting to start a car with a BAC over .25 will have his device permanently disabled and will be subject to fines and other penalties.
Some people in this line of work think that the abstinence model has really not been a success and is keeping those who are not yet full fledged alcoholics from moving on into adulthood by imposing serious penalties on them for youthful indiscretions.
I don't really see it that way. It seems to me we are catching people earlier in the progression of the disease of addiction than we used to, and, in many cases, preventing them from irreparably damaging their lives and the lives of others. They may go a year or two without driving, but may be spared 20 years of addictive drinking and all the fallout that entails. And this strict enforcement of the DUI laws has been largely, if not solely, responsible for reducing drunk driving related fatalities by half in the last 27 years.
To be sure, much could be done to give a clearer and less ambiguous message to young people: we could equip every new car with an interlock device; make it illegal to consume any amount of alcohol and drive; get rid of parking lots connected to bars; or re-institute prohibition. But these things are not going to be done at the same time we are legalizing marijuana and Sunday morning liquor sales, and when the most rampant form of addiction is to legally prescribed drugs.
Still, it is a mistake to think that because we haven't completely eradicated drinking and driving the laws against it and law enforcement have failed. The situation is better in many ways and many lessons in life have to be learned through consequences. These laws have saved a lot of lives, and the responsibility for how they impact those arrested ultimately rests with the ones who still choose to drink and drive despite the risks.