California DUI School & Court-Required Alcohol Programs
Everyone convicted of first-offense DUI in California is required by law to attend and complete a 30-hour alcohol education class called AB541. These classes generally meet twice per week, for a period of 3 to 4 months. Through lectures, videos and group discussions, the California DUI schools aim to teach students about the risks and dangers of drunk driving.
Courts take the California DUI School requirement very seriously. Failure to enroll in, attend or complete the DUI alcohol program subjects a person to a bench warrant, a probation violation, a longer drivers license suspension and even jail time.
More than 470 licensed DUI schools exist throughout California, at least one in nearly every city. To find one nearby, go to this comprehensive list:
While first-time DUI offenders must complete a 30-hour alcohol program, the length of the program can vary by the nature of the conviction. For example:
Wet Reckless Programs:
A person convicted of a California wet reckless charge is only required to complete a shorter 12-hour DUI class. If the charges are reduced to a dry reckless or exhibition of speed, no DUI class is legally required.
9-Month DUI Programs
A person convicted of a first-time California DUI charge must complete a longer 9-month DUI school if (1) his/her BAC measured .20 or higher or (2) he/she refused to submit to a breath or blood test following the DUI arrest.
18-Month DUI Programs
A person convicted of a second-time or subsequent California DUI charge must complete an 18-month program called SB38. This program entails 52 hours of group counseling, 12 hours of alcohol and drug education, 6 hours of community reentry monitoring, and biweekly interviews during the first year of the program.
18-Month DUI Programs
California counties may choose to offer (and require) 30-month DUI schools for persons convicted of third-time or subsequent DUI charges. Currently only Los Angeles and Stanislaus Counties provide 30-month alcohol programs. These programs entail 78 hours of group counseling, 12 hours of alcohol and drug education, 120-300 hours of community service, and regular individual interviews.
In the article that follows, our Los Angeles DUI lawyers discuss the history of California DUI schools, how to enroll in the program and what to expect from the class.
Frequently Asked Questions About California DUI School
Q: How long do I have to attend these classes?
A: Typically, the first-time DUI program lasts 3 months (or a total of 30 attendance hours) from start to finish. Some California counties, however, require the 30 attendance hours to span over a 4 month period.
Q: Where can I find these classes and how and when do I enroll?
A: Visit the following link for a list of court-approved California DUI programs broken down by city:
It is probably most convenient to enroll in a DUI school located near your home or place of work.
Under California law, you must enroll in the DUI class within 21 days of sentencing. Moreover, you must submit a "proof of enrollment" certificate--and later a "proof of completion" certificate--to the court. Failure to do so can result in an arrest warrant, a probation violation and possible jail time.
Some courts require you to enroll in the DUI alcohol education program through their referral office, located in the courthouse. Other courts allow you to select and join a program on your own.
Q: Are all AB 541, First Offender Program schools the same?
A: No. Even though AB 541 programs must go through the same licensing process through the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, each school structures its own approach and curricula to alcohol education. Some schools are regarded as better than others.
Q: I was fortunate to have the DUI charges reduced or dismissed in court. Yet the California DMV still suspended my license following an Administrative Per Se hearing. Do I still have to take the AB 541 classes?
A: Yes. Remember that a California DUI arrest triggers two separate cases: (1) a DUI prosecution in court, and (2) DMV proceedings to determine whether your drivers license will get suspended. You must complete the AB 541 DUI school if you lose either of these cases.
If your DUI charges get dismissed or reduced in court, yet the DMV imposes a license suspension against you, the California DUI school is still required. To be eligible for a restricted license after the first 30 days of a drivers license suspension, the DMV requires that you first be enrolled in an alcohol education program (the DUI school will notify the DMV electronically once you are enrolled).
Q: How much will the California DUI Education Program cost?
A: School may charge anywhere between $300 -$1000. The average is usually $500. Many schools offer payment plans allowing the student to pay each time they attend a class.
Q: Do I have to quit drinking alcohol while I attend these classes?
A: Many schools have policies regarding drinking during the DUI alcohol program. Some schools have a zero tolerance policy and will terminate a client if they suspect that the client is still drinking. Once terminated, the client will have to start over at another school. Termination may also result in a probation violation.
Q: The court ordered me to complete a California DUI school. But I live out-of-state. What can I do?
A: A person generally may complete an out-of-state DUI school that is comparable to AB541 in terms of length and content. However, the judge must approve this substitution in advance. Moreover, the student must actually complete the out-of-state DUI alcohol program and provide proof of completion to the California court where his/her DUI conviction took place.
Many states besides California offer Alcohol Education Programs for DUI/DWI offenders in their jurisdictions. For states that don't have such programs, private alcohol and drug counseling can sometimes be substituted to satisfy the AB 541 first-offender program requirement.
If you have a California DUI Attorney, he/she can help you locate a comparable out-of-state DUI school, and negotiate this substitution with the court.
A Hisotry of the AB 541 First-Offender DUI Program
Beginning in 1978, the California State Legislature enacted a statewide system of classes for DUI offenders. The program was part of a broader effort to crack down on drunk driving both through tougher laws and penalties, and through rehabilitative classes for offenders.
The AB541 class is now mandatory for all persons over 21 who (1) get convicted in court of a first offense DUI charge, and/or (2) whose licenses get suspended by the California DMV for driving with a BAC of .08 to .20.
Most of the California DUI schools are operated by private entities who get licensed by the state as official AB541 providers. To obtain licensing, a provider must submit an application to the Board of Supervisors of the relevant county.
If the Board recommends the applicant for licensure, the application is submitted for approval to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. The applicant must show that "it possesses the adequate administrative, fiscal, and operational capabilities to operate a DUI program; the program is clean, safe, and free of alcohol or illicit drug use; and will adhere to all applicable statutes and regulations."
Once a state license is granted, the applicant becomes an official provider of California DUI alcohol programs. The provider may charge enrollment fees, teach AB 541 classes, and grant certificates of completion that will satisfy the court.