The DMV Alcohol Class - An Overview

Part of “repaying your debt to society” involves taking either a 3-month (AB-541) or a 9-month (AB-1353) alcohol awareness class (If you luck out and get a Wet Reckless you’ll still have to take a 12 hour SB-1176 class. In rare instances you’ll have to take a 6 Month AB-768 or 18 month SB-38 class). The 3 month AB-541 is for standard DUIs, the 9-month AB-1353 is for people who refused the field sobriety test, or received elevated penalties for an excessively high BAC (usually double the legal limit) or were underage when they were arrested.

You’ll have roughly a year to do this (check your documents! Some people are required to enroll within 21 days of sentencing, and yes you can enroll before you’re sentenced), but I recommend getting it out of the way. There’s no good reason to wait. The DMV will generally require you to be enrolled to get your restricted license, if you want one, and will require you to complete the course if you want your full license restored after your suspension (both limited and full). If you have travel plans you can schedule a leave of absence, it’s actually somewhat flexible. Get it done. Get it over with.

Calling it a “class” is a bit of a misnomer - there will be no tests, no quizzes, no real education being provided. Odds are you’ve learned your lesson - the biggest motivator to not get another DUI is not wanting to go through this garbage again. Think of this as what it is - Adult Time Out. You were bad, so they’re going to punish you like you were a child - go sit in this classroom and think about what you did.

It’s a pain, it’s not fun, but you have to do it. Get it over with. You’ll actually be surprised at how quickly the class will pass by once you’ve gotten in the routine of going.

How the class works

The class works by wasting your time, giving you a practical consequence to your actions. It’s split into two sections - instruction and group sessions. At the beginning, middle, and end you will be interviewed, asked questions about your drinking. The questions will be pretty simple and you will know what answers they’re looking for. Additionally, you’ll have to attend some AA meetings.

It’s a pain in the ass and waste of time, but I understand why they make you go through all of this. For problem drinkers they want this to be an opportunity to turn their life around, to spend some time consciously thinking about their drinking, and perhaps decide that it’s time to stop or take an active role in cutting down. Most people do not fall into those categories, but they’re hoping that by putting everybody through this process that some will be able to turn their lives around.

All of the classes are pretty much the same - they have to stick to a set of state guidelines. Make a few calls and see how much it costs, what installment plans are offered (most of them have you pay a large amount up front then a set amount each week as you come in. You are, of course, welcome to get ahead of payment), what their tardy policy is, makeup fees etc. There’s not too much difference in how they’re run, but those slight differences can mean a world of difference if you have to take time off or are chronically late. If you get a good feeling or bad feeling go with it, but things won’t be too much different. I’d pick the one that’s the easiest to get to from where I’ll be at the time since attendance makes up most of the issues you’ll have with the class.

Additionally - if you have some time on your hands you can’t just go to a bunch of classes in a week and get credit. You have to go at the regular intervals. You can’t get ahead. You can certainly get behind - 3 absences in a row and they’ll send your case back to the court and things will get messy. Avoid this. Go to school.

How you are “graded” in class

The biggest grade you will get in this class is attendance. Just show up. Show up on time - as some places are
very strict about timeliness. One minute past start time and you won’t be able to take the class and are forced to take an absence (along with paying an absence fee). Others are a little bit more lenient. Ask before signing up what their late policy is. It may save you money. Be there on time, sign in when the teacher allows it. That’s 90% of getting through the class.

Be sober. If the instructors feel that you’re under the influence they can refuse your attendance. This becomes a mark on your record, and you’ll have to make up the class. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Most programs ask that you try to quit drinking for the duration of the class, but do not check, do not enforce this, and most will openly say that most of their “client” (not students) continue to drink during the program. As long as you don’t drink before/during class, you’re fine. A lot of discussion time pertains to how your drinking habits have changed after your DUI and during your class, so don’t be afraid to admit that you’re still partaking.

As long as you’re there, sober, and not causing problems you’ll be fine. They’ll force you to put your phone away, just put it in your pocket. Most of the disciplinary issues I saw while taking the class were related to the phone. Use it at break. Sit down and at least pretend to pay attention.

During class you’ll see the instructor cycling through large files - these are files about you and your fellow classmates. They’ll be taking notes about your attitude, responsiveness, etc. They can write anything they want, you won’t see these remarks, and they’ll be sealed unless you have another alcohol-related incident (Should that happen and injuries/fatalities be involved, they’ll have to testify about you taking the class and your demeanor during the class). I caught a glimpse at one of mine, it said I was “aloof, but participated when asked” for a class. I’d guess this is what most of the notes are.

Overall there’s 3 “grades” you may receive: 1) Participated fully - meaning that you engaged in the discussion at hand. 2) Paid attention, but did not participate - still a good mark, the instructors
cannot compel you to participate in the discussion, but as long as you’re paying attention, you will receive credit for your attendance. 3.) Did not pay attention - if it seems like you’re a million miles away, wearing headphones, fall asleep, etc. they can choose to not count your attendance that day. If you go make it count. You don’t have to be the life of the class, just speak up a little bit, or nod in agreement with things. Don’t be shy, you’ll not see these people again. Make it count.

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