Drug DUI and driver’s license revocation have been connected for decades. But the standard policy needs revisiting.

January 23, 2024

The privilege to drive is crucial to reintegration after a criminal conviction, but even more so in cases where addiction recovery is part of the process. In drug-related cases, the loss of that privilege has been a key component of punitive actions since 1996.

But even today, when only a handful of states still enforce the federal law that requires license suspensions and revocations in all drug-related cases, drug courts retain the right to revoke driver’s licenses as part of the terms for participation. The connection between drug DUI and license revocation, however, may be more detrimental than helpful in many cases. And drug courts need an alternative that can offer both freedom to drive and accountability for drug use.

Drug DUI and Driver’s License Revocation: A Simple Solution

For drug DUI convictions, driver’s license revocation is seen as the simplest solution to providing safety and accountability for drug court participants. Driving-related drug convictions indicate the potential for future incidents of similar nature, so it’s often a natural consequence to limit an individual’s freedom to drive.

A driver’s license revocation for drug DUI also sets a limit to travel outside of a designated region or jurisdiction during recovery efforts. Drug court judges may use suspension or revocation to limit a participant’s ability to travel beyond state boundaries. Geographic limitations can simplify recovery efforts by keeping drug court participants close to required appointments, whether they’re with probation officers or drug testing facilities.

Effects of Losing the Freedom to Drive

But while this system looks good on paper, the real-life application is far more complex for, and often detrimental to, drug court participants working to reintegrate into daily life during their mandatory recovery period.

Maintaining Employment

A critical step in reintegration is holding a job. Maintaining employment takes great effort for drug court participants fighting against addiction. And dependable transportation is central to keeping a job.

But when convictions for drug DUI and driver’s license revocations go hand-in-hand, participants often lose their ability to get to and from work consistently. Many communities have limited public transportation availability, making it difficult for drug court participants to commute without a driver’s license.

The result is often one of two scenarios: the participant is unable to maintain employment because of absences, tardiness, or lack of reliability because they are unable to get to and from their place of employment, or participants violate their license suspension by driving anyway. The latter can lead to more severe consequences if stopped for any reason by law enforcement and can also result in wasted resources for state and local law enforcement.

Court-Mandated Appointments

Beyond employment, drug courts often require multiple compliance-related appointments. Regular check-ins with court officials, court appearances, and drug testing require reliable transportation. And having the freedom to drive makes all of these easier to attend.

License suspensions, however well-intentioned, complicate transportation needs. And when transportation isn’t available to and from these mandated appointments, participants face sanctions for noncompliance.

Family Events

Court mandates are part of the equation, but the freedom to drive also plays a role in rebuilding and maintaining healthy relationships. Whether it’s an emergency or an annual gathering, recovering addicts need to be present in healthy relationships to reintegrate successfully.

Courts may see driving restrictions as a means to restructure past patterns or limit contact with individuals that caused unhealthy dynamics. This reasoning is true to some extent, but the same limits hinder positive growth. When a participant can’t attend family events, provide opportunities for their families, or participate in unexpected events like funerals, they lose the social connection that has been proven necessary for recovery and reintegration.

Driver’s License Requirements

Another unexpected effect of drug DUI and driver’s license revocation policies is the peripheral struggles when drug court participants need a license for housing, lending, or identification needs. In these situations, a driver’s license provides not only the freedom to drive but also the freedom to access housing and resources.

The Need for A Better Solution

Do the intentions behind drug DUI and driver’s license revocation policies justify these negative effects? Many advocates don’t believe so. In fact, there have been considerable efforts made toward eliminating these sanctions for non-driving-related convictions that were once mandated by federal law.

For driving-related convictions, the need for accountability is still present, even if the punitive action itself needs revisiting. With the growing availability of cannabis products, as well as a concerning uptick in vape use, including fentanyl-laced vapes, accountability is even more important than before. Drug court participants with drug DUI and driver’s license revocation sanctions still require reliable transportation, and the courts need a way to provide both the freedom to drive and the accountability necessary to pave the way for recovery.

An Alternative to Revocation for Drug DUI Convictions

One alternative to drug DUI and license revocation policies is to replace suspensions and revocations with sobriety mandates. However, these require a high level of accountability to be effective, and few drug testing and counseling mandates meet that standard consistently and without fail.

Most conventional drug testing methods come with windows of detection that don’t allow for continuous accountability. When safety is the concern, those gaps in detection leave an opportunity for dangerous outcomes. Counseling and check-ins can help drug court participants maintain goals, but participants can still experience setbacks between appointments.

The solution is 24-hour accountability that doesn’t depend on inpatient care or excessively frequent sample collection for testing. This is where a testing solution like the PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch changes the way drug courts look at the freedom to drive for driving-related offenders.

Continuous Sampling

Rather than depending on intermittent sample collection that can lead to missed drug use, the PharmChek® Sweat Patch provides court officials with a reliable sampling method that remains effective for up to 7 to 10 days. This extra measure of accountability gives probation officers and judges a clear picture of a participant’s drug use.

Tamper-Evident Design

Adulteration is a common concern for drug court officials, but PharmChek®’s medical-grade polyurethane adhesive makes it easy to see any donor efforts to tamper with results. Instead of doubts, court officials gain confidence that their donors are maintaining compliance. And that confidence can make it possible for drug court participants to preserve their freedom to drive.

Convenient and Minimally Invasive

Conventional drug testing can require multiple appointments every week to demonstrate compliance, and that can be a stressful requirement for drug court participants. When transportation isn’t dependable, it can be impossible to maintain this schedule. But the PharmChek® Sweat Patch can make it much easier for court officials and participants to stay on track.

With a wear time of up to 7 to 10 days with each application, court-mandated testing requirements are far less stressful for all involved. And PharmChek®’s sweat collection method is minimally invasive and gender-indifferent, so staffing requirements are less stringent.

PharmChek® for the Freedom to Drive

Finding an alternative for drug DUI and license revocation policies requires a different perspective. The goal with any sanction is safety and forward progress, but when a sanction limits a participant’s ability to reintegrate by restricting access to much-needed transportation, forward progress becomes much more difficult.

PharmChek® fills the gap between accountability and freedom with a system that works for everyone involved. Contact one of our sales representatives to learn how the PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Patch can change your drug court’s sanctions to provide a better quality of life and faster recovery for your participants.