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Driving is a privilege, as well as a wonderful convenience. When someone obtains a driver’s license, legally binding documents are signed with an oath to abide by laws implemented for the safety of everyone sharing the road. Operating a vehicle while under the influence of mood-altering substances is detrimental to the lives of people both on and off the road.

Throughout this article, we refer to drunk driving as being under the influence of substances that impair one’s ability to operate a vehicle. Alcohol and other mood-altering substances — including illegal drugs, controlled substances such as marijuana, prescription drugs, and some over-the-counter medications — can cause delayed reaction time, drowsiness, a false sense of confidence, and other dangerous levels of impairment. An increase in impairment is likely when mixing substances.

Numerous arrests and causalities occur year-round as a result of driving under the influence (DUI). In 2017, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 2,013 DUI related incidents in Orange County alone. There were 24,334 DUI convictions for all 67 counties across Florida. A large majority of these incidents take place over the holiday season, when one can assume that residents have more leisure time and visitors are flooding in from across the world. According to the US Department of Transportation, nationally, over the past 5 years, an average of 300 people died in DUI-related crashes during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Alcohol-impaired fatalities make up more than a quarter of all crash fatalities.

The consequences of driving under the influence are dire. The worst possible outcome is a fatality. No one is invisible, and the ripple effect of a DUI fatality — regardless of who is at fault — impacts the lives of couples, families, friends, co-workers and many others. These people are faced with a heartbreaking reality of mourning the significant loss of someone important, someone who had a future, and someone people loved and depended upon. Should one be fortunate enough to avoid a loss of life, injuries resulting from an accident can be severe. In any situation, lives are changed forever because of an irresponsible action made by a drunk driver.

An individual charged with a DUI faces the time-consuming and expensive process of regaining their driving privileges after an arrest. Assuming it is the first DUI conviction, an individual faces a minimum of $8,000 in fines, legal defense, fees, missed time from work, insurance increases, etc. Penalties consist of fines, community service, imprisonment, license revocation and DUI School. It’s important to note that this is a minimum amount; the cost associated with a DUI charge often exceeds this number.

The Florida Safety Council oversees the requirements necessary for evaluation, license reinstatement and DUI School in our area. The primary goal is educating those who may be harmfully involved with alcohol and other drugs about the effects of these substances on themselves and others. The Safety Council process starts with a two-hour enrollment prior to beginning educational courses. Students also undergo a one-hour DUI Evaluation with a Certified DUI Evaluator. This evaluation could lead to a referral to an outside treatment provider for further evaluation and counseling.

New Leaf Center has provided treatment to DUI offenders for more than 28 years. Our staff consists of Licensed Mental Health Counselors who perform a three-hour drug and alcohol evaluation process to determine the appropriate level of treatment. Our program consists of individual and group counseling, random urinalysis screening, educational and therapeutic assignments, as well as attendance at 12-step meetings. Abstinence from all mood-altering substances is required for the duration of the program.

The Addiction Treatment Program at New Leaf Center helps clients understand addiction and to identify their addictive behaviors. For all addictions, it is necessary to address distorted, irrational thinking and break down denial systems in order to recognize the need for change. Clients are guided through the process of making lifestyle changes that helps them begin making healthier behavioral choices.

This holiday season, and all year long, we encourage everyone to be safe on the roads and help save lives by never drinking and driving. Options include having a designated driver, calling a taxi or a sober friend for a ride, or using one of the many available ride-share apps.

Caitlin Woods