banner of Priorities and Strategies for Improving the Investigation, Use of Toxicology Results, and Prosecution of Drug-Impaired Driving Cases

Issue #1:  What are the major problems encountered in processing a drug-impaired driving case through the criminal justice system?

There is a wealth of information emerging about the extent of drug use in drivers and its contribution to traffic injuries and deaths. This includes not just illicit drugs, but also prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs that can have a variety of undesirable side effects.

1. More law enforcement resources need to be dedicated to stopping impaired drivers.

A traffic stop for impaired driving, whether caused by alcohol or other drugs, removes that driver from the road, and prevents the risk of injury or death to that driver, and other road users. Additionally it initiates a process that, when it works, can change the behavior of that individual and reduce the risk for future re-offense. There is no magic bullet for detecting drug-impaired driving. The same cues identified for alcohol impaired driving2 will likely net individuals whose impairment is caused by other drugs. Specially trained DREs can be used effectively as part of emphasis patrols in “target-rich environments” such as high-drug-use areas identified through technologies like computer-aided dispatch systems, many of which now map locations of contacts. Concerts and other festivals associated with drug culture are also good opportunities for highly visible DUID enforcement, sending a strong message about how seriously this issue is taken.

Traffic law enforcement is not a priority for many law enforcement agencies operating under onerous fiscal restraints. Traffic enforcement is perceived as expensive due to court overtime costs, and the corresponding loss of manpower for what is considered a “minor crime.” However, it must be remembered that traffic law enforcement initiates a contact that will lead to detection of other major crimes. People who disregard felony laws often have very little regard for traffic codes.

It is the recommendation of this panel that law enforcement agencies should be encouraged to see traffic law enforcement as an integral part of community policing, and to invest additional resources in impaired driving enforcement, and officer
training. Federal incentives and support of the DRE program by paying for initiating and supporting DRE programs, along with associated training and financing impaired driving emphasis patrols, would help in this process.

  • Innovative strategies to offset the costs of driving while intoxicated (DWI3) enforcement including fines that fund future enforcement efforts, such as assessment by the courts of cost recovery fees, have demonstrably improved
    resources for DUI enforcement. Impositions of such fees are within the discretion of the courts in many jurisdictions, but are not being taken advantage of. In other jurisdictions legislative action may be required.

Public pressure and citizen activist groups can raise the profile of impaired driving enforcement within communities and help shape law enforcement priorities.

2.  Law enforcement officers often do not have sufficient training to assist them in recognizing symptoms of drug impairment in drivers.

Law enforcement officers are trained to look for common symptoms such as bloodshot watery eyes, slurred speech, and an odor of alcohol on the breath. Over-reliance on portable breath test devices, which may indicate the absence or low amounts of alcohol, may result in impaired drivers being released. Signs of drug effects in drivers such as fast or confused speech, excessive sweating, abnormal pupil size, muscle tics or tremors, or drug odors, all of which can be important clues to drug impairment, may be overlooked by officers without appropriate training.

Curricula exist, through the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP),4 for training every law enforcement officer in recognizing symptoms of drug use. These classes, typically lasting 8 to 16 hours, give law enforcement officers the necessary articulable suspicion to begin to initiate an investigation for drug use by the driver and to develop the case to collect other evidence, be it behavioral, physiological, and/or toxicological. Without this level of awareness, more-sophisticated resources such as the option of calling in DRE officers and use of complex toxicology testing will be underused.

In light of these considerations, the panel recommends that:

  • Law enforcement agency management should ensure that all officers receive a minimal level of IACP-administered “Drugs that Impair” training.
  • Agencies should also adopt and support the DRE program. This program, currently in 45 States, provides a framework to make this general drugged-driver training available to all law enforcement officers. Without the necessary tools to establish a reasonable suspicion of drug impairment at the roadside through behavioral signs and symptoms, subsequent elements in successful prosecution of these cases become moot.

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2NHTSA report “The Visual Detection of DWI Motorists,” March 1998, DOT HS 808 677. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, DC.

3 The terms DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) are considered interchangeable for the purposes of this discussion. Both are used in statutes in different jurisdictions.

4 IACP, 515 North Washington St, Alexandria, VA,  22314, phone: 703-836-6767