South Dakota uses low-cost program for drunk drivers
24/7 Sobriety program reduces repeat drunk drivers by 12%
Last week, CBC Radio's Morning Edition covered how Saskatchewan has some startling numbers when it comes to drinking and driving. For example, impaired driving is the biggest killer on Saskatchewan roads: 59 people died in 2014 in alcohol-related crashes, and according to Statistics Canada, we have the highest rate of impaired driving incidents of all the provinces.
Our neighbours to the south, specifically in South Dakota, have dealt with similar problems.
"South Dakota was terrible with our recidivism rate when it came to drunk driving," said Art Mabry from Pierre, South Dakota.
As long as there's no alcohol in their system, they are free to go on and maintain their jobs, stay with their families, maintain their freedom.- Art Mabry
Mabry is the coordinator for the state's 24/7 Sobriety program.
He uses the past tense when speaking about their rate of repeat offenders, because that number has dropped thanks to a low-cost program that's getting a lot of attention.
The concept of the 24/7 Sobriety program is pretty simple. Instead of heading to jail after getting charged with impaired driving, the driver is required to go the sheriff's office twice a day and get breath tests. The tests are 12 hours apart.
"As long as there's no alcohol in their system, they are free to go on and maintain their jobs, stay with their families, maintain their freedom," said Mabry.
If the test shows that they do have alcohol in their system, also known as blowing hot, they immediately go to jail for usually between 12 to 24 hours.
After being released from jail, they are put back into the program.
12% drop in repeat DUI arrests
The program started as a small pilot project, but is now used in 90 per cent of the state because of its success rate.
An independent study by a public policy research group found that the 24/7 Sobriety program reduced repeat DUI arrests by 12 per cent.
Although the program was originally put in place to reduce repeat drunk drivers, it's also used for other alcohol offences.
The same study found arrests for domestic violence went down by 9 per cent because of the program.
Mabry notes that it's a sobriety program, not an abstinence program, so someone could conceivably have a few drinks after doing their breath test. But in some situations, a judge may get the offender to wear an ankle bracelet that detects alcohol through sweat glands. The bracelet is also used for people who can't travel to the sheriff's office for the breath tests.
Mabry says a big draw is the program's cost, because it's completely funded by the offenders. Breath tests cost $1 each time and the bracelets are $6 per day.
Mabry estimates that nearly 30 states now have some version of the program, and he says just this week that he's been in talks with people from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.
Back in Saskatchewan, SGI currently uses license suspensions, vehicle seizures, ignition interlock, and alcohol education courses to deal with impaired drivers, as well as jail time for certain situations.