LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) – Parts of Acadiana are testing a new pilot program for the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission with the goal of preventing drunk driving tragedies. Lafayette, Acadia, and Vermilion are the first parishes selected by the state to participate.

Through this pilot program, people convicted of drunk driving will get screened sooner for substance abuse or mental problems.

“Our hopes, in a nutshell, are to save lives,” Louisiana Highway Safety Commission Executive Director Lisa Freeman told News 10.

In 2020, more than 40% of the motor crashes in Louisiana were alcohol related. 332 people died because of them. The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission (LHSC) is working to identify impaired drivers and get them off our roads.

Freeman’s latest effort starts in the 15th Judicial District where drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated for the first or second time will now be required to undergo screening to detect possible substance abuse or mental disorders. Current law only requires the screenings after three or more convictions.

“We don’t go to take care of our teeth once they begin to fall out. We do that in a proactive and prophylactic way. Well, that’s what we’re doing for the needs of offenders,” Freeman explained.

Retired 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards III added, “If you can do that on the first offense, you’re more likely to avoid a second, a third, a fourth offense.”

Edwards is the judge liaison for the LHSC. He recommended the pilot program start in Lafayette, Acadia, and Vermilion Parishes. As a former 15th JDC judge, he recognizes the screening’s value. It looks at substance habits and, if necessary, recommends an assessment by a clinician who can diagnose any disorder and how to treat it.

“And thus, armed with that information, the judge can have a conditional probation, require the person to get an assessment and then get the treatment that the person needs,” Jules Edwards III stated.

The pilot program was announced days ago and already judges from all corners of the state are calling to try and join Lafayette in this pilot program, and, hopefully, join in its success.