DWI/DUI Courts Work

Convinced that we can’t jail our way out of the drunk driving problem, some judges have created so-called DWI courts (sometimes called DUI courts). These innovative courts use substance-abuse interventions and treatment with defendants who plead guilty of driving while intoxicated.

Not every DWI offender is alcoholic, but most hard core repeat offenders are. And hard core repeat offenders are involved in the majority of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

The emphasis of DWI courts is on reducing drunk driving by treating one of its major causes, alcoholism. Nevertheless, some offenders are sentenced to jail and the crime remains on their records.

The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA), Dr. Jeffrey Runge, is promoting DWI courts as a major way to reduce impaired driving. He stresses that most Americans make the right choices about drinking and driving. For example, choosing to have one drink instead of six on their way home from work. Dr. Runge says DWI courts are most useful for those who are unable to make wise choices because of their addiction.

Those who want DWI court treatment are required to abstain from alcohol. Some must wear a device that permits their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to be downloaded at least once a day. “They may get unannounced visits from police officers who give drug or alcohol tests -- and then come back an hour later to give another one just to make sure offenders don’t celebrate after passing the first test.” 1

It appears that DWI courts are effective. In one of the first such courts, started in 1997, the recidivism rate has fallen from about 45% down to only 13.5%. It’s obvious why the head of the national Highway traffic Safety Administration is so actively promoting their establishment across the United States. Currently there are only about 60 DWI courts in the country.

If we are to significantly reduce drunk driving, every community should have a DWI court.


  • 1. Lundegaard, Karen. DWI court treatment programs in U.S. show signs of helping drunk drivers to sober up. Wall street Journal, 4-7-04, pp. B1-B2.


  • DUI Courts Website (American Council on Alcoholism), www.aca-usa.org/duicourtshome.htm
  • Kinkade, P., et al. Probation and the drunk driver: a cost of being "MADD." (mandatory sentencing for drunk drivers promoted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving not effective alone) Federal Probation, 1992, 56(2), 6-15.
  • National Hardcore Drunk Driving Project (www.duidata.org)
  • Treatment advocates try to extend drug court success to DUI offenders. Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly, 1999, 11(35), 1
  • Wells-Parker, E. Mandated treatment; lessons from research with drinking and driving offenders. Alcohol Health & Research World, 1994, 18(4), 302-307.
  • Wells-Parker, E., et al. Self-efficacy and motivation for controlling drinking and drinking/driving: an investigation of changes across a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) intervention program and of recidivism prediction. Addictive Behaviors, 2000, 25(2), 229.
  • Winfree Jr, L.T. and Giever, D.M. On classifying driving-while-intoxicated offenders: The experience of a citywide DWI drug court. Journal of Criminal Justice, 2000, 28(1), 13.

filed under: Drinking and Driving