A comprehensive approach should be implemented in order to identify drug and multiple substance impaired drivers, promote accountability and behavior change including:

Improved detection of impaired drivers

Impaired driving is the only crime where an investigation ceases once minimal evidence is obtained. This results in many multiple substance-impaired drivers going undetected. Currently, many state policies and protocols prevent drug testing when an impaired driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at or above the legal limit of .08 BAC the driver is only charged with DUI-alcohol. Drug use is usually only investigated when alcohol is ruled out as the cause of impairment or the impairment does not correspond with the driver’s BAC level.

Data shows the need to test for both drugs and alcohol in order to better identify these dangerous drivers and ensure they are screened, assessed, sentenced, and treated in a way that positions them for rehabilitation and reduces future DUIs.

  • The Orange County Crime Lab began testing all blood samples in DUI cases for the presence of drugs, irrespective of the BAC level, in August of 2017 with the goal of collecting better-impaired driving data. The most recent data (through December of 2018) reveals that impairing drugs were detected in 36% of samples where the BAC was .08 or greater which represents a 5% increase over the previous year (Harmon, 2019).
  • Several oral fluid pilot studies also underscore the importance of testing drivers who have BACs above the illegal limit. In a study conducted in Miami-Dade County, 39% of drivers who were found to have a BAC above .08 also tested positive for the presence of drugs (Logan et al., 2014). In another pilot in Dane County, Wisconsin nearly 40% of the subjects with BACs exceeding .10 screened positive for one or more drug categories in both oral fluid and blood (Edwards et al., 2017). In a real-world setting, most of these individuals would only be identified as alcohol-impaired drivers and further investigation regarding drug use would be unlikely to occur.

Why is Better Detection Critically Important?

  • Failure to identify multiple substance and drug-impaired drivers can lead to negative outcomes:
  • Lack of testing leads to under-reporting, limits overall understanding of the issue and prevents informed decision-making regarding policy and resource allocation.
  • Failure to identify drug use at the time of arrest hinders the court’s ability to effectively dispose of cases and craft sentences tailored to offenders’ risk and needs.
  • Unless drug use is identified at the outset of the case, offenders are unlikely to be subject to any drug monitoring and/or treatment, creating a missed opportunity to intervene and make informed offender supervision and treatment decisions that would reduce repeat DUIs.

Solutions for Improving Detection

A comprehensive approach should be implemented in order to identify drug and multiple substance impaired drivers, promote accountability and behavior change including:

  1. Increase specialized law enforcement training: Most law enforcement officers are trained to identify alcohol-impaired drivers, but many do not receive specialized training to identify the signs and symptoms of drug or multiple substance impairment. A complete investigation for drug-impaired driving requires an evaluation by a drug recognition expert (DRE). The nation needs more drug recognition experts, especially in rural areas and smaller police and sheriff’s departments.

Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training is the bridge between Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) training. The greater the number of ARIDE-trained officers, the more likely that drug and polysubstance-impaired drivers will be identified and DREs will be called upon to perform drug evaluations.

  1. Expand drug testing for impaired drivers. Oral fluid tests are reliable and identify the presence of the most common categories of drugs. They are easy to administer in the field with quick results. They have a short detection window which captures recent as opposed to historical drug use. More jurisdictions are beginning to implement largescale oral fluid pilots or permanent programs as opposed to smaller county pilots. Michigan and Alabama both have statewide programs. These tests are not currently used for evidential purposes in the United States. A blood test is the gold standard for evidence in court.

Expanded testing will strengthen DUI investigations and provide vital information to make appropriate sentencing, supervision, and treatment decisions. If drug use is not identified, the majority of these individuals are unlikely to be subject to drug testing or treatment interventions while under supervision which means that behavior change is unlikely and the potential for recidivism remains high.

Learn more about oral fluid testing here (Link to OF position statement)

  1. Increase law enforcement ability to rapidly obtain chemical samples: Drug-impaired driving cases require a blood draw for evidential purposes and the delay in obtaining the blood sample is a substantial challenge. Impairment from drug use can last for hours, but the body metabolizes drugs quickly and chemical evidence dissipates rapidly.
    • Law enforcement phlebotomy: One way to speed the process of blood collection is to train law enforcement officers as lab technicians so that they are fully trained to draw blood. This program was first established in Arizona more than two decades ago and is in place in 10 states. Law enforcement phlebotomy saves time and money and alleviates the challenge of performing blood draws in hospitals.
    • Electronic warrants expedite warrant submission and approval, decrease human errors and speed the process for blood testing which will better match nanogram levels to what they were at the time of driving – in other words, the chemical evidence is preserved and not lost to metabolization. Examples of robust e-warrant systems can be found in Arizona, Minnesota, and Utah although each jurisdiction is encouraged to develop a system that is individualized such that it meets specific needs and garners support from key stakeholders. More information about these systems can be found in’s Implementation Guide.

Technology to Fight Impaired Driving

Advances in technology present tremendous opportunity to reduce impaired driving but they are underutilized currently. NASID works to raise awareness of these technologies and increase funding available for states to take advantage of these innovative tools.

In most states, DUIs are not classified as felony offenses until the third or fourth conviction. This means that many first and second impaired driving offenders are not subject to active supervision, making it difficult to effectively monitor offenders for compliance.  However various technologies can fill that supervision gap and also improve detection of impaired drivers.

Ignition interlocks are the most effective countermeasure to stop drunk driving. These devices are in use in all 50 states and D.C. and are mandatory for use among all DUI offenders in 34 states and D.C. However only about 25 percent of DUI offenders who are required to install ignition interlocks on their vehicles actually do so because DUI offenders are often not supervised after sentencing. There are a variety of strategies that states can use to increase ignition interlock implementation.

Oral Fluid tests are reliable, fast, non-invasive, and able to detect recent (within 24 hours) drug use. These devices can be used at the roadside to identify the presence and category of drugs among impaired drivers.

Ocular data systems and evidence recorders allow law enforcement officers to manually test the eye movements and responses of a subject while directly observing and capturing responses in a ‘live’ video. The subject’s captured responses can be stored and played back as evidence of impairment or for instructor critique in training.

Continuous alcohol monitoring provides 24/7 transdermal alcohol testing for repeat impaired drivers. These systems automatically sample the offender’s perspiration every 30 minutes and encourages accountability and can increase compliance rates with court orders and community safety.

Mobile fingerprinting devices help on-duty police officers verify identities of impaired driving suspects and also allows DUI arrest data to be uploaded to the federal National Crime Information Center database to better identify repeat DUI offenders as they travel between states. Standard arrest protocols often do not include fingerprinting which makes it more difficult to identify repeat DUI offenders.

The DRE Tablet App was developed by the University of Albany Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research (ITSMR) to allow law enforcement officers to enter observations and assessments of impaired driving suspects into computer tablets. This electronic process allows data sorting, trend tracking, and informed enforcement efforts.

The DRE tablet app captures all the data required for a Drug Influence Evaluation, and more. The system includes an electronic version of a face sheet, validates data, generates PDF evaluation documents, and uploads all data, including drawings, to a state database. Since the evaluations contain sensitive personal information, data is fully encrypted, and security precautions are in place on both the tablet and the server.

Data collected from the application allows law enforcement agencies to plan their patrols around specific time frames and days of the week when multiple substance and drug-impaired driving violations are most prevalent.

Electronic Warrants (eWarrants) are an important tool to help law enforcement get impaired drivers off the roads. Automated warrant processes give law enforcement a streamlined tool to ensure people who drive impaired are held accountable. For more information and to learn how to set up these systems, click here.

Online Prosecutor Trainings are necessary to help ensure effective prosecution of DUI cases. Many prosecutors who work on DUI cases are fresh out of law school, yet impaired driving cases are the most complex cases to prosecute. Education is needed to provide an in-depth understanding of how to prosecute impaired driving. The National District Attorneys Association has developed an online training that is free and qualifies for CLE training. Learn more here.

Computerized Screening and Assessment programs that are validated specifically among DUI offenders are now available. There are three such programs: The Computerized Assessment and Referral System (free to use), the Impaired Driving Assessment (free to use) and the DUI-RANT Assessment.  Traditional screening and assessment tools were not developed for the unique risks and needs among impaired drivers. The result has been that an offender’s risk of recidivism, substance use and mental health disorders and treatment needs have not been accurately identified. It is common for impaired drivers to have undiagnosed and untreated substance use and mental health disorders. Without effective identification of these problems, behavior change is unlikely, and they have a higher risk to become repeat offenders.

Rideshares give people a way to safely travel home after consuming alcohol or drugs. Platforms such as Uber and Lyft are attractive to use, affordable for many and a much safer alternative to driving or walking impaired.