A guide to negotiating the Responsible Driver Program

Responsible Driver Program sessions are held in groups

Last week we discussed the Responsible Driver Program (RDP). If you have been issued a 90-day Immediate Roadside Prohibition, 90-day Administrative Roadside Prohibition or were convicted of a criminal code drunk driving offence you will be required to take part in this course. When you are taking the program it is important to remember the service provider, Stroh Health Care, is assessing whether you pose a risk to the safety of other road users. This means they will constantly be fishing for information about you. Lots of people going into the course are not fully aware of what to expect. This could be a huge mistake because you could end up in a worse position than when you started.

Completion of the RDP can be made a condition of obtaining your licence and, depending on your participation, you could be referred to the expensive Ignition Interlock Program. Failure to complete the program could also lead to a much more lengthy driving prohibition. We created this guide to help anyone about to take the Responsible Driver Program avoid these pitfalls. The information is based on the Participant’s Workbook given to those who take the shorter eight-hour component, observations of someone who has recently completed the program, and advice we give to our clients.

Read everything Stroh Health Care sends to you carefully

Letters and course literature will be sent to participants in the RDP. It is vital you read everything carefully. If you fail to do so, you might overlook important details. Prepare for the course before you start. Read the material and think about things that could undermine your statements. Remember, the fact you have a drinking and driving offence on your driving record means the DUI is proven. Denying, equivocating or playing down the significance or facts of your case merely makes you look like you are in denial.

We spoke to Robert Jackson* who had recently completed an RDP. He offered some invaluable insights into what the program is like from a participant’s perspective. Mr Jackson said he was amazed so few of the people he met on the course had actually read the information they had been sent before taking part in the program.

“It’s pretty clear when they send you a letter there could be further course requirements if they evaluate you and find out you have a drinking problem,” he said.

“Really what these questions are designed to do is to assess how much you drink. A lot of people were incriminating themselves. They were excessive drinkers and they didn’t read the letter.

“Read that letter closely. It says it all there.”

Preparing for the phone interview

The first step for RDP participants is an “intensive” telephone assessment. The purpose of this phone call is for Stroh to determine whether you will be assigned to either an eight-hour or 16-hour component of the program. Although there is no extra charge for the longer course, depending on how the conversation goes you could find yourself spending double the amount of time in the course than other people.

It is important to be prepared for the phone assessment. This is not a friendly chat. According to the Stroh Health Care Participant’s Workbook, they use “recognized psychometrics” to evaluate substance use and driving risk. You need to to be honest but whatever you do, do not aggrandise your drinking. Maybe make notes as you go along. Be careful what you say because they are writing it down.

When asked about his experience of the phone interview, Mr Jackson said: “They ask you about your drinking patterns, how much you drink, have you been hospitalised because of drinking, do you have a family history of drinking, are you the child of an alcoholic? That sort of thing.”

Turning up for your first group session

After your phone interview and you have been assigned to either the eight-hour or 16-hour component of the program, you will attend sessions conducted in groups lead by a facilitator. Arrive on time, make sure you are well presented – hair combed and clean shaven. Ensure you are not hungover or have not had a drop of liquor before the meeting. It is a good idea to attend with pens and a notebook to show you are an active participant. Take a bottle of water and be aware that someone may sniff it for alcohol.

When answering questions, do not to downplay the dangers of drinking. It is natural to feel awkward having to do something you do not want to do but you need to get over your embarrassment quickly. Remember that everyone is there for the same reason.

“A lot of people are not used to being in a group setting. It can be kind of intimidating,” Mr Jackson said. “Especially if you are embarrassed about your drinking. Some people said way too much. They just rambled on and on about their drinking and partying.”

Mr Jackson went on to warn anyone having to take the course, “What people need to understand is that they are under the scrutiny of that counselor and the questions they ask are pertinent to what happens to you.

“I would caution everyone to be very careful. You and your drinking habits are being recorded. [The facilitator] will make you feel like she’s your best buddy and you can tell her anything.

“They ask a lot of questions about your drinking. How often you drink, who you drink with, where you drink.”

Participants have to fill out a workbook. One of its pages is titled “My Substance Use” and includes questions about what your substance use was when it was at its highest in the past, what it is at the present time, and what you think were the negative consequences of your substance use.

What if you decide to not participate in the sessions?

With the risk of saying something incriminating, it might be tempting to think being silent is the best tactic.[pullquote]“If you are not participating it might cause you to take further courses”[/pullquote]

According to the Group Guidelines in the Participant’s Workbook, people are expected to, “Participate in group check-in and share specific information on substance use (what and how much) since the last group session.” It also states when you respond with answers like “a couple” or “a few” you will be asked to count how many that actually is.

According to Mr Jackson not participating in the group discussion may count against you. He said: “If you are not participating it might cause you to take further courses.

“I was talking outside to one person who wasn’t joining in and I said: ‘You’d better participate, she’s going to note you down for that.’ And he said: ‘Really?’”

Avoid sharing too much information about yourself but not sharing anything can also count against you.

Other observations about the RDP

At the end of the program, participants are shown a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) video about the dangers of drink driving featuring shocking images.

“I guess it’s scare tactics,” Mr Jackson said.

He added, in all, he found the course “kind of weak” and when he asked about random breath tests he said he was told that police would run your plate number and pull you over if they find any priors on your record in the past five years.

Have you been referred to an RDP?

The thought of having to take a Responsible Driver Program can be daunting, not to mention costly both in terms of your time and money. If you have been issued a 90-day IRP, 90-day ADP or a criminal drinking-driving charge, you will be required to take the RDP.  Successfully defending your case is the only path to avoiding the RDP requirement. That is why you should seek professional help first.

The Superintendent of Motor Vehicles regularly refers drivers to the Responsible Driver Program. The cost of the course is often only the beginning of the bills participants face as the program can lead to further expenses such as being obliged to take part in the Ignition Interlock Program. At Acumen Law Corporation, our lawyers have saved BC drivers from having to take the course thousands of times.

If you are facing a drunk driving allegation, call us for a free consultation.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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