What Law Enforcement Can Do to Combat Drugged Driving

Drugged driving is a serious issue that affects public safety. The term refers to the act of operating a vehicle while impaired due to the effects of recent drug use. Like drunk driving, drugged driving puts the driver, passengers, and everyone else on the road in serious danger. Law enforcement plays a key role in combating this problem, but identifying and apprehending drugged drivers presents unique challenges.

Drugged Driving Is a Complex Problem

The problem of drugged driving is nearly as prevalent as drunk driving. The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 11.7 million drove under the influence of selected illicit drugs, including marijuana, while 13.5 million people drove under the influence of alcohol. 

According to a 2017 Governors Highway Safety Association report, there are a number of factors that complicate the issue of drugged driving, including:

  • Hundreds of different drugs can impair drivers
  • Many drugs that impair driving are legal to use under certain conditions
  • For many drugs, presence in the body and effect on driving can be complex, and vary from driver to driver
  • Data on drug presence in crash-involved drivers can be incomplete and inconsistent from state to state, and sometimes even across jurisdictions within states. 
  • In a roadside traffic stop, it is more difficult for law enforcement to detect drug impairment than impairment from alcohol. 
  • Laws regarding driving while under the influence of drugs (DUID) vary across the states. 
  • It’s more difficult to prosecute and convict a driver for DUID than for alcohol-impaired driving (DUI).

Common Drugs Involved with Drugged Driving Offenses

Although physicians acknowledge that different types of drugs have different effects on various individuals, drugs can be categorized according to particular shared symptoms or effects. Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) identify seven drug categories relating to impaired driving offenses. These include:

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants – slow down the operations of the brain and the body. Examples include alcohol, barbiturates, anti-anxiety tranquilizers (e.g., Valium, Librium, Xanax, Prozac, and Thorazine), GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyrate), Rohypnol and many other antidepressants (e.g., as Zoloft, Paxil).

Central Nervous System (CNS) Stimulants – accelerate the heart rate and elevate the blood pressure and “speed-up” or over-stimulate the body. Examples include Cocaine, “Crack”, Amphetamines and Methamphetamine (“Crank”).

Hallucinogens – cause the user to perceive things differently than they actually are. Examples include LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin and MDMA (Ecstasy).

Dissociative Anesthetics – includes drugs that inhibit pain by cutting off or dissociating the brain’s perception of the pain. Examples include PCP and its analogs.

Narcotic Analgesics – relieves pain, induces euphoria and creates mood changes in the user. Examples include Opium, Codeine, Heroin, Demerol, Darvon, Morphine, Methadone, Vicodin and OxyContin.

Inhalants –  a variety of breathable substances that produce mind-altering results and effects. Examples include Toluene, plastic cement, paint, gasoline, paint thinners, hair sprays and various anesthetic gases.

Cannabis (Marijuana) – active ingredient is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Examples include cannabinoids and synthetics like Dronabinol.

Even though every state has laws concerning impaired driving, many of those laws do not differentiate between alcohol impaired driving and drugged driving. Per se laws dictate that it is illegal to drive with specific levels (or zero levels/zero tolerance) of drugs or metabolites. The problem is that while the effects of alcohol are largely consistent from person to person, the ways in which individuals metabolize drugs can be quite different. In the case of alcohol, the per se standard for drunk driving is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08g/dL or more in most states. Per se laws for drugged driving vary from state to state in terms of the permissible amounts, which can also be complicated and problematic.

Recognizing the Signs of Impaired Driving

As noted previously, detection and confirmation of drug impairment in the field can be difficult for law enforcement officers. The challenge begins with recognizing the signs of drugged driving. Some police departments have implemented training programs such as Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training through the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Some of the signs law enforcement officers are instructed to look for during a stop include:

  • Bloodshot, red, or watery eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Difficulty performing Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) functions
  • Body or eyelid tremors
  • Slow, lethargic movements
  • Abnormally carefree attitude

Drugged Driving Law Enforcement Tools from Kustom Signals

Since drug influence can be difficult to confirm through field tests, law enforcement officers must be able to document dangerous, impaired behaviors in other ways. Video is an important tool for documenting and prosecuting drugged driving violations. 

Kustom Signals provides tools to help law enforcement document incidents of drugged driving. LaserCam 4 will help your fleet capture impaired driving offenses on the scene, providing essential evidence for prosecution.  

LaserCam 4

The LaserCam 4 features the highest level of 36x optical zoom, while most competitive LIDAR cameras do not have any optical zoom capability. This allows for the video capture of registration plates as well as details like the make and model of a vehicle. In addition to capturing video evidence of dangerous and illegal driving behaviors, this device sees into cars, and has a long range yoke to extend the enforcement range even further. Polarizing filters improves visibility through windshields as well.

The LaserCam 4 can also use just the camera to capture evidence. It is also customizable with optional accessories that increase its usability in the field, including an IR torch for superior night-time video or image capture, as well as a variety of long-range optical lenses.

NEW ARGUS Body-Worn Camera

Kustom Signals’ new Argus Body-Worn Camera is designed to help officers in challenging environments by securing important evidence. Argus is equipped with a high-quality imaging sensor to ensure that it performs exceptionally well, even in low light conditions or with rapid movements. Rated for military standard 810G and IP67, Argus is robust and durable, ensuring that it can withstand drops and impacts while staying water and dust resistant. 

Kustom Signals is a leading provider of law enforcement speed enforcement and video solutions. Our team is here to support police departments and law agencies with equipment and resources that help them safely perform their duties. Explore our speed enforcement hub and video hub to learn more.

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