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Improved detection of impaired drivers
Impaired driving is the only crime where an investigation ceases once minimal evidence is obtained. This results in many multiple substance-impaired drivers going undetected. Currently, many state policies and protocols prevent drug testing when an impaired driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at or above the legal limit of .08 BAC the driver is only charged with DUI-alcohol. Drug use is usually only investigated when alcohol is ruled out as the cause of impairment or the impairment does not correspond with the driver’s BAC level.
Data shows the need to test for both drugs and alcohol in order to better identify these dangerous drivers and ensure they are screened, assessed, sentenced, and treated in a way that positions them for rehabilitation and reduces future DUIs.
- The Orange County Crime Lab began testing all blood samples in DUI cases for the presence of drugs, irrespective of the BAC level, in August of 2017 with the goal of collecting better-impaired driving data. The most recent data (through December of 2018) reveals that impairing drugs were detected in 36% of samples where the BAC was .08 or greater which represents a 5% increase over the previous year (Harmon, 2019).
- Several oral fluid pilot studies also underscore the importance of testing drivers who have BACs above the illegal limit. In a study conducted in Miami-Dade County, 39% of drivers who were found to have a BAC above .08 also tested positive for the presence of drugs (Logan et al., 2014). In another pilot in Dane County, Wisconsin nearly 40% of the subjects with BACs exceeding .10 screened positive for one or more drug categories in both oral fluid and blood (Edwards et al., 2017). In a real-world setting, most of these individuals would only be identified as alcohol-impaired drivers and further investigation regarding drug use would be unlikely to occur.
Why is Better Detection Critically Important?
- Failure to identify multiple substance and drug-impaired drivers can lead to negative outcomes:
- Lack of testing leads to under-reporting, limits overall understanding of the issue and prevents informed decision-making regarding policy and resource allocation.
- Failure to identify drug use at the time of arrest hinders the court’s ability to effectively dispose of cases and craft sentences tailored to offenders’ risk and needs.
- Unless drug use is identified at the outset of the case, offenders are unlikely to be subject to any drug monitoring and/or treatment, creating a missed opportunity to intervene and make informed offender supervision and treatment decisions that would reduce repeat DUIs.
Solutions for Improving Detection
A comprehensive approach should be implemented in order to identify drug and multiple substance impaired drivers, promote accountability and behavior change including:
- Increase specialized law enforcement training: Most law enforcement officers are trained to identify alcohol-impaired drivers, but many do not receive specialized training to identify the signs and symptoms of drug or multiple substance impairment. A complete investigation for drug-impaired driving requires an evaluation by a drug recognition expert (DRE). The nation needs more drug recognition experts, especially in rural areas and smaller police and sheriff’s departments.
Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training is the bridge between Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) training. The greater the number of ARIDE-trained officers, the more likely that drug and polysubstance-impaired drivers will be identified and DREs will be called upon to perform drug evaluations.
- Expand drug testing for impaired drivers. Oral fluid tests are reliable and identify the presence of the most common categories of drugs. They are easy to administer in the field with quick results. They have a short detection window which captures recent as opposed to historical drug use. More jurisdictions are beginning to implement largescale oral fluid pilots or permanent programs as opposed to smaller county pilots. Michigan and Alabama both have statewide programs. These tests are not currently used for evidential purposes in the United States. A blood test is the gold standard for evidence in court.
Expanded testing will strengthen DUI investigations and provide vital information to make appropriate sentencing, supervision, and treatment decisions. If drug use is not identified, the majority of these individuals are unlikely to be subject to drug testing or treatment interventions while under supervision which means that behavior change is unlikely and the potential for recidivism remains high.
Learn more about oral fluid testing here (Link to OF position statement)
- Increase law enforcement ability to rapidly obtain chemical samples: Drug-impaired driving cases require a blood draw for evidential purposes and the delay in obtaining the blood sample is a substantial challenge. Impairment from drug use can last for hours, but the body metabolizes drugs quickly and chemical evidence dissipates rapidly.
- Law enforcement phlebotomy: One way to speed the process of blood collection is to train law enforcement officers as lab technicians so that they are fully trained to draw blood. This program was first established in Arizona more than two decades ago and is in place in 10 states. Law enforcement phlebotomy saves time and money and alleviates the challenge of performing blood draws in hospitals.
- Electronic warrants expedite warrant submission and approval, decrease human errors and speed the process for blood testing which will better match nanogram levels to what they were at the time of driving – in other words, the chemical evidence is preserved and not lost to metabolization. Examples of robust e-warrant systems can be found in Arizona, Minnesota, and Utah although each jurisdiction is encouraged to develop a system that is individualized such that it meets specific needs and garners support from key stakeholders. More information about these systems can be found in Responsibility.org’s Implementation Guide.