December Named National Impaired Driving Prevention Month

In a presidential proclamation, President Barack Obama named the month of December National Impaired Driving Prevention Month.  In his proclamation he states, “Impaired driving and its consequences can seriously alter or even destroy lives and property in a moment. This reckless behavior not only includes drunk driving, but also the growing problem of drugged driving. Drugs, including those prescribed by a physician, can impair judgment and motor skills. It is crucial that we encourage our young people and fellow citizens to make responsible decisions when driving or riding as a passenger, especially if drug use is apparent.”

This statement coincides with the recent release by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of new data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). One in three fatally injured drivers (33%) with known drug test results in the United States tested positive for drugs other than alcohol in 2009. While the number of drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes has declined over the past five years, the number of drivers positive for drugs has increased by 5%.

Posted: 12/3/2010 12:15:00 PM

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Prescription-based DUIs draw attention from police

From The Sierra Vista Herald:

When police officer James Boubelik pulls someone over for reckless driving, he looks for clues of impairment like dilated pupils, slurred speech or the smell of alcohol.

But it’s more than just alcohol and illegal drugs that Boubelik and other officers are looking for these days. They’re also looking for drivers impaired by legal, prescription drugs — harder to recognize than drunken driving and sometimes harder to prosecute.

Posted: 11/18/2010 1:56:00 PM

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NJ college places ban on boozy energy drinks

From the ABC News:

It's cheap, it comes in tall cans, and it contains caffeine, other common energy-drink ingredients — and as much alcohol as four beers.

After students at northern New Jersey's Ramapo College were hospitalized last month after drinking Four Loko, the college president ordered that it and similar drinks be banned — and he's encouraging other colleges and the state to follow suit.

Posted: 10/19/2010 1:08:00 PM

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Driving while on prescriptions a growing issue for police and the courts

From NorthJersey.com:

As more doctors prescribe Xanax, Vicodin and Oxycodone, police are seeing a rise in more DWIs, not with driving under the influence of alcohol, but with drivers on legally obtained painkillers. According to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), statistics speak for themselves. Between 1997 and 2007, according to a University of Michigan study, treatment admissions for prescription painkillers increased more than 400 percent. The DEA said that between 2004 and 2008, the number of visits to hospital emergency departments involving the non-medical use of narcotic painkillers increased 111 percent. Area cops are reporting making more prescription medication-related DWI arrests and area lawyers are now vigorously defending those cases in court.

Posted: 10/14/2010 2:51:00 PM

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Testimony continues in alleged drunken-driving case

From the North & South Brunswick Sentinel:

A woman accused of fatally killing an 18-year-old South Brunswick woman in 2007 had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 at the time of the crash, expert witnesses are testifying.

Dr. Edward J. Barbieri, who is a forensic toxicologist, assistant lab director and toxicology tech leader at NMS Labs, the facility that handled Green’s blood sample, testified on Sept. 15 that the concentration of ethyl alcohol found in Green’s blood were 159, 161 and 161 milligrams per deciliter, resulting in a reported number of 0.159 per a test called a headspace gas chromatograph. He testified that the samples were not tampered with and that quality controls were run to assure accuracy.

Posted: 9/23/2010 10:44:00 AM

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Woman's blood alcohol content topples state records

From the Rapid City Journal:

A Sturgis woman had a record-setting blood alcohol level of .708 when she was found on Dec. 1 behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle.

Her blood alcohol was almost nine times the level at which South Dakota authorities presume a person is intoxicated.

Checks with local and state labs where blood alcohol levels are tested suggest Engle's reading may be the highest ever recorded in South Dakota.

Meade County State's Attorney Jesse Sondreal's research indicates that a blood alcohol level of .40 is considered a lethal dose for about 50 percent of the population.

"Engle's was almost double that," Sondreal said.

Posted: 12/30/2009 10:01:00 AM

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Officers’ New Tool Against D.W.I.: Syringe

From The New York Times:

When Officer Darryll Dowell of the Nampa Police Department is on patrol, he will pull up at a stoplight and start casing the vehicle next to him. Nowadays, his eyes will also focus on the driver’s arms, searching for a plump, bouncy vein.

“I was looking at people’s arms and hands, thinking, ‘I could draw from that,’ ” Officer Dowell said.

The thought stems from training he and a select cadre of officers in Idaho and Texas have received in recent months in drawing blood from people suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The aim of the federal program is to determine if drawing blood by law-enforcement officers can be an effective tool against drunken drivers and aid in their prosecution.

If the results seem promising after a year or two, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will encourage law-enforcement officers nationwide to undergo similar training.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1966 that the police could have blood tests forcibly done on a drunken-driving suspect without a warrant, as long as they were based on a reasonable suspicion that a suspect was intoxicated, and they were done after an arrest and carried out in a medically approved manner.

The practice of law-enforcement officers drawing blood, first done in Arizona in 1995, has raised concerns, though, about safety and the credibility of the evidence.

“I would imagine that a lot of people would be wary of having their blood drawn by an officer on the hood of their police vehicle,” said Steve Oberman, chairman of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ committee on driving while intoxicated.

For years, defense lawyers in Idaho advised clients to always refuse breath tests, Christine Starr, a prosecutor in Ada County, said. When the state toughened the penalties for refusing the tests a few years ago, the problem lessened, but it is still the main reason that drunken-driving cases go to trial in the Boise region, Ms. Starr said.

Idaho had a 20 percent breath test refusal rate in 2005, compared with 22 percent nationally, according to a study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Ms. Starr said she hoped the new system would cut down on the number of drunken-driving trials.

The officer phlebotomists are generally trained under the same program as other phlebotomists in their state, but under a highly compressed schedule. The officers are trained to take blood from the elbow crease, the forearm and the back of the hand. If none are accessible, they are instructed to take the suspect to a hospital for testing.

Though most legal experts agree that blood tests measure blood alcohol more accurately than breath tests, Mr. Oberman said they could be fraught with problems, too. Vials can be mixed up, preservative levels in the tubes used to collect the blood can be off or the blood can be stored improperly, causing it to ferment and have a higher alcohol content.

Mr. Oberman said law enforcement agencies should also be concerned “about possible malpractice cases over somebody who was not properly trained.”

Alan Haywood, the law enforcement phlebotomy coordinator in Arizona, is directing the training programs in Idaho and Texas. Mr. Haywood said that officers were exposed to some extra on-the-job risk if they drew blood, but that good training and safe practices reduced the concerns.

In Phoenix, Detective Kemp Layden, who oversees drug recognition, phlebotomy and field sobriety, said there were about 120 officers certified to draw blood. Typically, a suspect is brought to a precinct or mobile booking van for the blood draw.

Under the state’s implied consent law, drivers who refuse to voluntarily submit to the test lose their license for a year, so most comply. For the approximately 5 percent who refuse, the officer obtains a search warrant from an on-call judge and the suspect can be restrained if needed to obtain a sample, Detective Layden said.

Between 300 to 400 blood tests are done in an average month in Phoenix, the nation’s fifth-largest city. During holiday months that number can rise to 500, said Detective Layden, who reviews each case to make sure legal procedures were followed.

Posted: 9/14/2009 2:48:00 PM

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Sir, will you step out of the car ... words you don't want to hear

From the examiner.com:

As I rolled down the window, the officer leaned down and stated, "I’m informing you, that you’re being recorded. I clocked you at 70 miles per hour in a 55; could I see your license, registration and proof of insurance please?"

No one in their right mind ever wants to hear those words! No matter the situation, it’s uncomfortable. Even ignoring the potential fine, it could result in much higher insurance costs. Worse yet are the words, "Sir, will you step out of the car?"

First thing I did was, interrupt his comment and replied "no problem" to the part of his notification that I was being recorded. As he continued, I began to nod my head agreeing that I’d sped and immediately followed with an explanation why.

I can imagine how nervous I’d have been, had I been impaired.

I had to have been and looked very disheveled - - - he agreed.

When I told him I’d just spent 3 days on the ocean and I was physically torn up and exhausted, his reply was, "I can see that."

"Huh", I thought immediately. Guess it was obvious, all the way down to the burger sauce slopped down the front of my t-shirt. Still, his response caught me off guard – an indication as to part of what I’d learn a couple days later.

The odd part was, the timing. I had already set up an appointment to interview (for this column): Senior Officer and Drug Evaluation Classification Program Coordinator, Michael Iwai of the Oregon State Police.

Wednesday, after my drive down to Salem, Michael was going about explaining how unlikely it is that the officer would miss any signs of possible impaired driving - - - I’d just asked a pointed question.

As part of Michael’s answer, the trooper’s comment on highway 20, ("I can see that."), immediately came back to me. From the instant the trooper had pulled in behind me and ‘lit me up’ he’d been observing ... looking for signs.

These men are trained to do their job in such a way … they don’t miss a thing, and Michael is the man who just happens to facilitate that. The irony of the timing of the situation though, did not escape me. Michael’s precise and thorough explanations and answers made me see how he was the right man for the job he’s in and how well he trains the troopers in the field.

No two ways about it; Michael’s job is to make the roads safer … to take the impaired drivers off the streets and highways; Michael and the men he trains are extremely good at what they do; trust me.

It’s past time to wake up; there’s a relatively new, and awesome enforcement tool each of the 205 troopers trained so far, have as their foundation. Years ago, there may have been gaps in the officers’ training; there are no more "gaps".

This training gives an incredible insight into the impaired drug user. It’s no longer just about alcohol. Because of Michael’s training, this new Drug Evaluation Classification Program (DECP) they’re each a "Drug Recognition Expert." That’s not just a title … it's there because they've qualified in a comprehensive program; it consists of hours of rigorous training … the same program exists across 45 states - foreign nations as well.

If you’ve crossed the line, and been taken into custody, after the 12-step investigation, the DRE officer will even be able to tell you … what category of drug, or specific drug you’re high on! The training has reached that high and precise a level.

This program, the passion and professionalism of Michael and the other DRE / troopers, and the harsh penalties for those found guilty, have significantly improved the safety on our highways. Again, trust me; if you drive impaired you’ll be sorry.

Posted: 8/17/2009 9:40:00 AM

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Experts: Women are drinking more, DUIs are up

From the Associated Press:

It seemed too horrendous even to imagine. But the case of the mother who caused a deadly wrong-way crash while drunk and stoned is part of a disturbing trend: Women in the U.S. are drinking more, and drunken-driving arrests among women are rising rapidly while falling among men.

And some of those women, as in the New York case, are getting behind the wheel with kids in the back.

Men still drink more than women and are responsible for more drunken-driving cases. But the gap is narrowing, and among the reasons cited are that women are feeling greater pressures at work and home, they are driving more, and they are behaving more recklessly.

"Younger women feel more empowered, more equal to men, and have been beginning to exhibit the same uninhibited behaviors as men," said Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Another possible reason cited for the rising arrests: Police are less likely to let women off the hook these days.

Nationwide, the number of women arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs was 28.8 percent higher in 2007 than it was in 1998, while the number of men arrested was 7.5 percent lower, according to FBI figures that cover about 56 percent of the country.

Nearly 250 youngsters were killed in alcohol-related crashes in the U.S. in 2007, and most of them were passengers in the car with the impaired driver, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.

"Drunk drivers often carry their kids with them," said MADD's Hurley. "It's the ultimate form of child abuse."

Arrests of drunken mothers with children in the car remain rare, but police officers can generally list a few.

The increase in arrests comes as women are drinking excessively more than in the past.

One federal study found that the number of women who reported abusing alcohol (having at least four drinks in a day) rose from 1.5 percent to 2.6 percent over the 10-year period that ended in 2002. For women ages 30 to 44, the number more than doubled, from 1.5 percent to 3.3 percent.

The problem has caught the attention of the federal government. The Transportation Department's annual crackdown on drunken driving, which begins later this month, will focus on women.

"There's the impression out there that drunk driving is strictly a male issue, and it is certainly not the case," said Rae Tyson, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "There are a number of parts of the country where, in fact, the majority of impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes are female."

Unlike men, women tend to drink at home and alone, which allows them to conceal a problem more easily.

Because of this, they seek treatment less often than men, and when they do, it is at a later stage, often when something catastrophic has already happened, said Dr. Petros Levounis, director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.

"Our society has taught us that women have an extra burden to be the perfect mothers and perfect wives and perfect daughters and perfect everything," Levounis said. "They tend to go to great lengths to keep everything intact from an external viewpoint while internally, they are in ruins."

In the current recession, women's incomes have become more important because so many men have lost their jobs, experts say. Men are helping out more at home, but working mothers still have the bulk of the child rearing responsibilities.

"Because of that, they have a bigger burden then most men do," said clinical psychologist Carol Goldman. "We have to look at the pressures on women these days. They have to be the supermom."

And just becoming a parent doesn't mean people will stop using drugs or alcohol, Ducharme said: "If you have a real addictive personality, just having a child isn't going to make the difference."

Posted: 8/7/2009 11:00:00 AM

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Drive Hammered, Get Nailed. Busting the Myths of Impaired Driving

From the Washington Traffic Safety Commission:

Participating in this summer’s Drive Hammered, Get Nailed enforcement campaign are the Shelton and Squaxin Island Police Departments, the Mason County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol, with the support of the Mason County Target Zero Traffic Safety Task Force.

There are numerous myths surrounding impaired driving, chief of which is that one must have consumed alcohol in order to be arrested for DUI. Drivers can become impaired by the use of illegal, prescription, and even over-the-counter drugs, or some combination of these, with or without the presence of alcohol.

OTHER MYTHS ABOUT IMPAIRED DRIVING:

FALSE: You can sober up quickly by drinking coffee, taking a cold shower or consuming an energy drink. TRUTH: Only time will sober you up. It typically takes about one hour for each drink that has been consumed.

FALSE: It’s OK to drive impaired if you are only going a short distance. TRUTH: It is never safe to drive under the influence.

FALSE: My doctor wouldn’t have prescribed the medicine if it wasn’t safe to drive while taking it. TRUTH: Prescription medications can impair you. If the bottle indicates that it is not safe to operate heavy machinery, you should not drive after taking that medication.

FALSE: I can’t be arrested for DUI if I am under a .08. TRUTH: You can be arrested for DUI if your ability to drive is affected by any substance, regardless of your blood alcohol content (BAC).

All of these and many more myths are untrue, yet recognizing and identifying the source of impairment can be complicated.

Today, there is a statewide network of specially trained law enforcement officers able to identify drivers who are under the influence of illegal, prescription, and/or over-the-counter drugs. They are called Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) and they are trained extensively about the differing effects of drugs and/or alcohol on the body.

DRE Trooper Matt Wood, WSP Shelton detachment, says that one of the most common stories he hears from people he stops is that they were “drugged.” He knows it does occur but that most often he finds the drug with the driver. An example was a driver who was impaired on methamphetamine (meth). She crossed the centerline and struck a vehicle head on. She claimed that someone had given her a soda that did not taste right but she drank it anyway. Multiple bags of meth were found in her vehicle and in her shirt. She said she had not used any of the meth but was keeping it for someone else, but her blood results came back positive for meth. She was convicted of vehicular assault for injuries to the driver she hit.

In Washington State, the DRE program and toxicology testing are resulting in better identification of the effects of drugs on drivers. Between 1998 and 2007, drug-involved traffic deaths increased by 150 percent. During this time, the number of deceased drivers tested for drugs increased by 60 percent.

It is also important to emphasize that any law enforcement officer can arrest a driver suspected of DUI.

Impaired driving is the leading cause of traffic deaths in Washington. Last year, impaired drivers contributed to the deaths of nearly half of the 522 people who died on Washington’s roadways. The 233 impaired driver-involved deaths in 2008 represent a decrease of 40 fatalities compared to the previous five-year average.

Nationally, there were almost 13,000 people killed by impaired drivers during 2007. Those preventable deaths represent an average of one person being killed every 40 minutes in the United States.

Posted: 8/7/2009 10:23:00 AM

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