Driving under the influence is a crime that affects thousands of people across our nation every year. Deaths resulting from impaired driving have been an issue for decades, and are still a factor in our society today. A common misconception is that an arrest, or conviction, for Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated, only involves alcohol impaired driving.
While alcohol is the most commonly abused substance that results in these types of arrests, it is only one of many substances that can impair one’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. In addition to alcohol, several other substances have resulted in deaths due to impaired driving. Illicit street drugs, prescription pills, and other house hold substances can affect the sympathetic, and parasympathetic regions of the brain resulting in impairment when abused.
In the 1970s, the Los Angeles Police Department developed a program to train officers to recognize clinical and psychophysical indicators of drug impairment. This training, now known as the Drug Evaluation and Classification program, resulted in officers being certified as Drug Recognition Experts (D.R.E.’s). This program was so successful, that several law enforcement agencies across the country followed suit, and sent their own officers to receive this specialized training.
To better understand what this means, we must first understand the definition of the term, “Drug”, as it pertains to the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program. Simply defined, a, “Drug” is “Any substance that can impair one’s ability to operate a vehicle safely, when introduced into the human body”.
With this definition in mind, it is clear that several different substances can be used to create a drug induced “high” resulting in impairment. In addition to alcohol, common household items like solvents, “Dust Off”, cold medications, as well as illicit street drugs, can all cause impairment if abused.
Officers trained as Drug Recognition Experts are able to conduct intensive, non-invasive, evaluations of subjects suspected to be impaired by a substance other than alcohol. Through this evaluation, the D.R.E. is able to recognize specific types of impairment, and identify one or more categories of drugs impairing a particular individual. In addition, these evaluations can also allow the D.R.E. to determine that the person is not impaired, or simply suffering from a medical issue.
The title of Drug Recognition Expert means that the respective Officer is potentially able to be recognized by the courts as an, “expert witness”. If recognized as such, the officer is able to give his or her professional opinions as opposed to simply stating facts. To date, D.R.E. officers have given testimony in several court proceedings that have resulted in judgements for the state.