AB541 – 1st Time DUI School Alcohol Program in California

An AB541 program (“AP”) is an alcohol awareness class that drivers must complete when:

Title 9 of the California Health and Safety Code sets forth the minimum curriculum for this program. In general, an AP must include (at minimum):

  • an enrollment session,
  • two case management sessions,
  • ten alcohol/drug awareness education classes (a total of 15 hours),
  • ten group sessions (a total of 15 hours), and
  • typically, Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meetings.

As to the education classes, their primary focus is on California DUI laws, drug abuse, and “problem” drinking.

An AB541 class is a 90-day/three-month outpatient program. People convicted of a second offense DUI will be ordered to complete the 18-month SB38 DUI school.

If a driver is ordered into this class, attendance and completion will be a condition of the driver's DUI probation. A failure to complete the program means a violation of this probation and the violator would then have to attend a probation violation hearing.

Offenders are expected to maintain sobriety while participating in a California court-ordered DUI school.

Upon successful completion of an AB541, a participant is given a certificate of completion and documentation recording program fulfillment. The person then provides the same to either:

  • the court, or
  • the DMV

as proof of program completion.

Our California DUI defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

ab541 classroom
An AB541 program (“AP”) is an alcohol awareness class

1. Who must attend a California AB541 program?

A driver will be required to attend an AB541 program if:

  1. it is the driver's first DUI within a 10-year period, and
  2. the driver's BAC was below 0.20%.1

Drivers must attend this alcohol awareness school regardless of whether they were convicted of, or pled guilty or “nolo contendere” to their DUI charge.2 This includes a charge of either:

Please note that this an AP includes people convicted of DUI of alcohol and those convicted of DUI of drugs (DUID).

2. What is the purpose of the program?

There are three main reasons for an AB541 class. These are:

  1. to educate drivers on alcohol (including its effects and inherent dangers),
  2. to reduce recidivism (or the likelihood that a person convicted of driving under the influence will reoffend), and
  3. to demonstrate the benefits of a life of sobriety.

3. What is enrollment?

Enrollment is the initial intake session of an AB541 program. It is when the offender meets with the organization that is providing the class. Enrollment is mandatory and not an option.

During the enrollment process, the participant:

  • turns over his paperwork that he received from the court, or the DMV, which states he must attend the program, and
  • receives a schedule on what class requirements he must complete.

In addition, the enrollment includes discussions on the program fee and how payment will be made. An AB541 typically costs around $850. Persons in an AP can either pay the full amount during enrollment or they can make arrangements to make weekly payments.

Please note that a participant must enroll within 21 days from his last day in court. If he fails to do so, the participant has to return to court and ask for an extension.

ab541 classroom
Title 9 of the California Health and Safety Code sets forth the minimum curriculum for an AB541.

4. What does an AB541 include – classes, sessions, meetings?

Title 9 of the California Health and Safety Code sets forth the minimum curriculum for an AB541. Please note, though, that the health department in each California county can add additional classes and meetings to these minimum requirements.

In general, an AB 541 must include (at minimum):

  • an enrollment session (see above),
  • two case management sessions,
  • ten alcohol/drug awareness education classes (a total of 15 hours),
  • ten group sessions (a total of 15 hours), and
  • typically, AA meetings.

As to the above, an AB541 school includes both counseling and education. Most of the counseling will be in a group setting. But there will also be some one-on-one interviews.

The education component consists of education on California DUI laws, drug abuse, and “problem” drinking. This education can be given in the form of:

  • live lectures,
  • videos, and/or
  • group discussions.

5. How long does an AB541 last?

An AP is a 90-day/three-month outpatient program.3 By statute, the program must consist of at least 30 hours of program activities, including education, group counseling, and individual interview sessions.4

6. What are the consequences if a person fails to complete a program requirement or drops out of the program?

If a driver is ordered into this class, attendance and completion will be a condition of the driver's DUI probation. A failure to complete the program means a violation of this probation and the violator would then have to attend a probation violation hearing.

AB541 participants are allowed to have five absences. However, they must make these up before being issued a certificate of completion.5

If a person exceeds five absences, he will be dropped from the AP.

Please also note that a participant can be dropped from a California DUI school program if:

  • he/she is disruptive to the class,
  • he/she sleeps during class, or
  • the instructor believes the participant poses a threat to the instructor or any other student(s).6
dui sobriety adult saying no to a drink
Offenders are expected to maintain sobriety while participating in a court-ordered DUI education program.

7. Must school attendees remain sober during the program?

Offenders are expected to maintain sobriety while participating in a court-ordered DUI education program. If a participant is suspected of being under the influence in class, the program may:

  • require the participant to undergo a breathalyzer or other chemical screening, or
  • expel the participant from the class and drop him/her from the program.7

8. What happens after program completion?

Upon successful completion of an AB541, a participant is given a certificate of completion and documentation recording program fulfillment. The person then provides the same to either:

  • the court, or
  • the DMV

as proof of program completion.

Have you been ordered to attend am AB541 program following a DUI charge in California? Call us for help…

california dui defense attorneys
Call us at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know is being ordered to attend an AB 541 because of a California DUI charge, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

(For similar information on DUI schools in Nevada, please visit our article on: "DUI School" in Nevada: How it Works.)


Legal References:

  • California Vehicle Code 23538(b)(1) VC. This code section states: "The court shall refer a first offender whose blood-alcohol concentration was less than 0.20 percent, by weight, to participate for at least three months or longer, as ordered by the court, in a licensed program that consists of at least 30 hours of program activities, including those education, group counseling, and individual interview sessions described in Chapter 9 (commencing with Section 11836) of Part 2 of Division 10.5 of the Health and Safety Code."

  • Health and Safety Code 11836(3) HSC.

  • California Vehicle Code 23538(b)(1) VC.

  • See same.

  • 9 CCR 9876(c) -- DUI School Attendance.

  • 9 CCR 9874 -- DUI Program Participant Sobriety and Behavior.

  • 9 CCR 9874 -- DUI Program Participant Sobriety and Behavior.

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