- International Association of Chiefs of Police
- Oregon State Police Patrol Services Captain (Retired)
- Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program Western Region Project Manager
Reinforcing the “Three-Legged Stool” to Combat Impaired Driving
Despite many positive efforts, impaired driving takes thousands of American lives each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2018 there were 10,511 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes in which at least one driver had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher, equating to 29 percent of all traffic fatalities for the year (1). Determining the number of drugged driving involved crashes remains a difficult task, but some estimates indicate that almost 44 percent of drivers in fatal crashes test positive for drugs (2).
Many law enforcement agencies today are faced with personnel shortages and budget limitations which can limit the agencies’ ability to implement strong enforcement practices or counter measures to combat impaired driving. However, no matter the jurisdiction or location, one foundational process that can be stressed is the “Three-Legged Stool” approach to combat impaired driving, especially as it relates to drugged driving. This successful approach stresses the importance of prosecution, toxicology, and law enforcement working together as a team to support the efforts to combat impaired driving. With the complexity of impaired cases and the increases in drugged driving, a “team approach” is recommended to make a meaningful impact.
Thanks to such organizations as MADD and many others, alcohol-related traffic fatalities are on the decline. However, drug-involved fatalities and drugged driving incidents are on the rise (3). The trend toward increased drugged driving incidents poses challenges for law enforcement, prosecutors, toxicologists, and others involved in traffic safety. Despite all the training, which includes Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training, drug impaired drivers too often go undetected or when arrested, may not always be prosecuted. Often this may be due to the disconnect between the arresting officer, the toxicology results, and the prosecutor.
With the expansion of legalized recreational marijuana, the resurgence of methamphetamine, and the increased use of other impairing drugs, it is critical that law enforcement administrators and highway safety professionals understand the importance of having officers trained and familiar with detecting drug impaired drivers and make this training a priority. With the assistance of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) continues to coordinate the delivery of the ARIDE and DRE training for police officers, prosecutors and toxicologists. Since the inception of the ARIDE program in 2009, over 45,000 people have been trained and there are now over 9,000 DRE trained officers in the United States and another 1,300 plus in Canada (4).
Law enforcement, prosecutors, and toxicologists are key foundational legs in supporting the efforts to combat impaired driving. As we address the drugged impaired driving challenges, we cannot forget this fundamental teamwork approach. We must also take advantage of valuable training opportunities to provide our officers, prosecutors and toxicologists with another “tool” for their impaired driving tool belt. Saving lives and reducing the incidents of impaired driving must always be at the forefront of law enforcement as should working together reinforcing the “Three-Legged Stool” to combat impaired driving.
- National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2019, December). Alcohol Impaired Driving: 2018 data (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 812 864). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- Governors Highway Safety Association, “Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States” May 2018.
- National Institute of Drug Abuse, Drugged Driving, December 2019. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/drugged-driving#ref
- International Association of Chiefs of Police, March 2020 data.