To The Daily Sun,
DWI offender treatment has recently become more accessible.
In New Hampshire, impaired driving laws have rightfully become increasingly severe over the years in several ways as the need for safety and intervention remains a serious and challenging issue. With opiate-based as well as other hypnotic drugs becoming more available, that sedative effect can be lethal for someone who gets behind the wheel, as well as for other potential victims.
Longer license suspensions, higher fines and jail sentences for repeat offenders have resulted in impaired driving-related fatalities being diminished by 35-50 percent since the 1980s. For the law enforcement community, their client for whom services are being provided is the potential victim in the community. By increasing community safety, they are getting the job done and their clients are safer.
Recently, there has also been an increase in the funding availability of a crucial component of DWI prevention and intervention, which is after-care treatment and counseling. This is a good thing for impaired driver service providers (IDSP) whose client is the offender or potential offender. The added cost of required DWI aftercare counseling, along with all other related expenses, for some is insurmountable.
For many offenders, the string of fines and increased costs due to an impaired driver offense may eventually wear off, but the compulsion to imbibe persists, which can eventually skew proper judgment at just the wrong time and lead to yet another DWI arrest. The recovery cliché, "One was good, so two was better" does not at all apply to drunk driving arrests, especially if someone is hurt or killed.
Recently the accessibility to crucial substance abuse treatment for poor and low-income offenders has increased in availability through the NH Health Protection Plan. This is great news for a particular group who has lost their licenses.
As an Impaired Driver Service Provider, I have become familiar with a segment of recovering individuals who have been unknown to most in the community. This small, but not miniscule group are those who have lost their license to drive, which has motivated them to take responsibility for their substance use issues but have all but given up on getting back their licenses. This is not because they don't want to legally drive, but because they cannot and probably will not be able to afford the costs.
During the past few years I have provided home counseling and treatment for those who cannot travel to my office due to physical issues, children at home and of course no license. For the working class on up, the average $4,000 to $6,000 that a first DWI conviction eventually costs is a serious unplanned expense and for those with a higher income, it is an annoyance. For those offenders who live from paycheck to paycheck, an impaired driving conviction could very well mean no license in the foreseeable future or ever again, whether they continue to abuse substances or not.
There are many who have taken responsibility in every way they can, for their impaired driving transgression but when it comes to dredging up that extra couple thousand for insurance or the several hundred to get started on an ignition interlock, the funds are nowhere in sight. Some even sell their vehicles to pay some of the costs with no plan as to how they will get another car, even if they do regain their license to operate.
As part of my outreach service I offer to come to client's homes, which has given me an insight into the lives of many who have had future plans, possible job advancement and hopes for a slightly better quality of life stagnated or even reversed because years have gone by without being able to afford their license back. Visiting clients at their homes has been an insightful aspect of my counseling practice.
People feel comfortable at home and often as a result, emotional and communication barriers dissolve easier. For example, I have gotten to know single mothers who have to rely more so on entitlements as well as a father of a family of four who leaves his restaurant job at night and heads to a third shift shelf-stocking job to make ends almost meet.
Another example are construction workers who can no longer plow during the winter slow season for the company so they go on unemployment for the winter and sometimes don't get called back to work in the Spring. Others lose their jobs immediately and getting rehired without a license is not easy. Decent wage potential is unlikely with no driver's license. Many have been in long term recovery but without a license for years beyond their original suspension time, because repeating programs or accumulating the lump sums that are owed is still difficult.
These are folks who have paid a higher penalty than most offenders for their DWI conviction and many also, struggle with the guilt of knowing that they cannot come through for family members who depend on them.
Since the very first intoxicated driver laws that were initiated in 1907 New York City, to the current annual 11,000 fatalities, we continue to wrangle with the impaired driver problem and its sometimes horrific result. But for most to pay the penalty, learn their lesson and get back on the road, the system has done its job. For others to be chronically at a disadvantage because their driver's license is out of reach, the system needs improvement. Available treatment funding will help address that need and save money for the community.
A&D Recovery Counseling
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