DUI Schools Flourish in AthensPosted: March 26, 2009
On St. Patrick’s Day Daniel Wetmore, was stopped at a DUI checkpoint as he escorted a handful of downtown fun-lovers home. Wetmore is an employee of Zingo, a transportation service aimed at cleaning the streets of drunk drivers.
Athens’ downtown nightlife and alcohol culture makes Athens a great market for the DUI school industry.
Athens has four DUI school, more schools than any other city in Georgia -minus Atlanta- according to Georgia Department of Driver Services. Augusta and Columbus have three DUI Schools and have nearly twice the population as Athens.
The University of Georgia Police Department and the Athens Clarke County Police Department executed a DUI crackdown on St. Patrick’s Day and set up various checkpoints on Athens’ roads. Police arrested 63 people for DUI after over 700 vehicles were stopped, according to The Red and Black.
“[After arrest] there are many avenues that a DUI offender might take,” said Officer Darrell Ponder from the UGA Police Department. “A DUI is a misdemeanor until their fourth offense, but every time a person arrested for a DUI punishment can vary from mandatory DUI classes and community service to jail time.”
Some of these 63 DUI arrests will soon be presented with the option, maybe only option, of taking a course at one of the four Athenian DUI schools, Officer Ponder said.
The course is 20 hours long and the total cost is $280, according to Georgia Department of Driver Services.
Athens drinking and driving problem is a blemish on the community but the DUI schools flourish.
DUI offenses within five years of each other for one violator are beyond DUI schools’ help, according to the Georgia Department of Driver Services. Multiple DUI violations require a heavier punishment.
Upon the fourth offense they are considered to have a habitual violation status and a system is placed in the offender’s car. He must pass a breathalyzer test to start his car. If he fails the test he will be arrested, Officer Ponder said.
“If they take a DUI class or not is up to the judge,” said Susan Poss, a DUI instructor that teaches the Prime for Life class at A-1Athens DUI and Defensive Driving School.
“My class has an average of 15 students and there are always UGA students-an average of three or four,” Poss said. “It teaches low risk guidelines in order to avoid future course of prevention and figures out [the DUI students’] level of risk.”
The University of Georgia Police arrested 207 people for DUIs in 2008, said Ponder.
The DUI industry has marched in to swallow the market Athens provides, said Mike Salck owner and of A-1 DUI and Defensive Driving School, the biggest DUI and defensive driving school in Georgia, owning 14 schools.
Georgia consists of over 200 DUI schools owned by individually owned companies that fund and found two trade associations (Driving Educator of Georgia and Georgia association of Risk Reduction Education [GARDE]) that participate in the companies’ public relations and collaborate between the companies, Salck said.
The state’s regulating hand is firm in this industry. The state requires licenses for everything. “The state licenses all DUI companies. Each school has a separate license to operate. The instructors of the courses have to receive a license,” said Salck. “This ensures that all the classes are the same and that the students get the highest caliber of learning and training.”
Many options are available to prevent partiers from driving while intoxicated and all the dangers that come with it, other than a tag-along designated driver.
Zingo sends designated drivers, like Wetmore, on scooters that collapse into the trunk of the customers’ vehicles and drive them to their destination in their own car.
On the busiest days of the week Zingo gets an average of 10-14 calls a night and over 20 calls during football season, said Wetmore, dispatcher and driver for Zingo. Zingo’s set price is $20 per ride and two dollars per mile after three miles.
“I’d have to say 80 to 90 percent of our calls are from downtown [Athens],” said Wetmore. “I’d say that most people, if Zingo did not pick them up they’d drive home drunk.”
“I probably saved them thousands of dollars and their lives,” Wetmore said from that St. Patrick’s night. “I love my job because I do feel like I’m saving lives.”