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Back to Archives | Back to March 2010 Contents 

Combating Impaired Driving

Chuck Hayes, Impaired Driving Training Programs Regional Operations

ne estimate puts the costs for traffic crashes at $230 billion each year in medical expenses, lost productivity, property damage, and related costs.1 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that three in every ten Americans will be involved in an alcoholrelated crash at some point in their lives. Just as alarming, in 2008, one person every 45 minutes, or approximately 32 people per day, died in traffic crashes involving a driver or motorcycle operator with a BAC of .08 g/dL or greater.2 Drivers with high BACs are also 385 times more likely than sober drivers to die in single vehicle crashes.3 Considering the magnitude of alcohol-related crashes on the economy and the personal tragedies, law enforcement has taken steps through various processes over the years to curtail impaired driving.

Since 2006, many states are making meaningful gains in eliminating deaths and injuries caused by impaired drivers. Numerous positive factors are involved, including expanded impaired driving enforcement training for officers, sobriety checkpoints, high-visibility enforcement, ignition interlock device laws, educational campaigns, media attention, and tougher prosecutorial stance on impaired driving crimes. These are commendable ongoing efforts that all police departments should continue.

According to NHTSA, in 2007, 13,041 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the United States—involving at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or greater.4

In 2008, that number dropped to 11,773 deaths with an overall reduction of nearly 10 percent.5 A total of 40 states saw reduced alcohol-impaired driving deaths in 2008. States having the greater decreases were Vermont (44.8 percent), the District of Columbia (43.2 percent), and Wisconsin (32.1 percent). Ten states experienced no change or an increase. States experiencing the most significant increases were New Hampshire (more than 40 percent), Kansas (more than 36 percent) and Wyoming (more than 34 percent).6

Individuals aged between 18 and 20 years constitute more than 10 percent of the total alcohol-impaired driving trips in the United States. The percentage of alcohol-related road crashes in which teenagers are involved remains disturbingly high. Alcohol-impaired driving statistics show that, in 2007, 18 percent of the alcohol-related driving deaths in the United States involved drivers aged 16 to 20 years old with a BAC of .08 or greater.7

In 2007, 15 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes during the week were alcoholimpaired, compared to 31 percent on the weekend.8 Not surprisingly, alcoholimpaired fatalities increase dramatically during the holidays and times when many people are celebrating. According to NHTSA, the 10 deadliest days of the year are January 1, July 3, July 4, August 3, August 4, September 1, September 2, December 22, December 23, and December 24 (with July 4, on average, being the deadliest day of the year).9

Gains Are Being Accomplished

NHTSA’s latest impaired driving survey, The 2007 Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers, found a dramatic decline in the number of drinking drivers with BACs of .08 g/dL or greater on weekend nights compared to that in previous surveys. In 1973 it was estimated that 7.5 percent of drivers had BACs of .08 g/dL or greater. The 2007 roadside survey found there were only 2.2 percent of drivers with a BAC of .08 g/dL or greater. This represents a decline of 71 percent in alcohol-impaired drivers on weekend nights.10

The Use of Drugs When Driving Is Increasing

Although the decrease in alcoholimpaired driving numbers is encouraging, the same is not true for driving under the influence of drugs. Drugs, both illicit and prescription, are increasingly being detected in chemical tests in many fatal and injury crashes.

In the 2007 roadside survey, NHTSA researchers also found that 16.3 percent of nighttime weekend drivers were drug positive. The survey further found that the drugs used most commonly by nighttime drivers were marijuana (8.6 percent), cocaine (3.9 percent), and methamphetamine (1.3 percent).11

While these estimates are not in themselves conclusive regarding the nature and scale of the drug-impaired driving problem, they are an important part of the ongoing research NHTSA and other groups are undertaking to better understand the role of drugs in traffic safety.

Cooperative Efforts

Efforts to further reduce drug- and alcohol-related crashes are continuing. Local government, law enforcement, nonprofit groups, and private businesses are continuing to join forces to attack the impaired driving problem.

At the 2005 annual IACP conference, the Highway Safety Committee (HSC) created an Impaired Driving Subcommittee to address impaired driving. The subcommittee comprised a diverse group of local, state, and provincial law enforcement executives, as well as representatives from the Governors Highway Safety Association; Mothers Against Drunk Driving; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); and other dedicated stakeholders.

The subcommittee was tasked with identifying ways to reduce impaired driving and also reduce impaired driving fatalities and injuries in the United States and Canada. The subcommittee concluded that increased success centered in three key areas:

  • Law enforcement leadership

  • Criminal justice system collaboration

  • Effective communication strategies

The subcommittee’s best practices guide, Impaired Driving Guidebook: Three Keys to Renewed Focus and Success, provides valuable recommendations for building a well-rounded approach to attack impaired driving. As a result of the subcommittee’s work, the membership of IACP passed a resolution, to renew the effort to eliminate alcohol- and drug-impaired driving. 12 The subcommittee’s guidebook is available online at

Impaired Driving Enforcement Training

NHTSA and the IACP have partnered to develop and provide a number of impaired driving enforcement programs that help meet the three key areas identified by the IACP committee. Each of the impaired driving enforcement training programs developed by NHTSA and coordinated by the IACP is designed to assist law enforcement and prosecutors and can be used in effective communication strategies with the media and the community. The NHTSA/IACP impaired driving enforcement training programs include the following:

Standardized Field Sobriety Testing: The Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) curriculum is the standard for all impaired driving detection training programs. SFST was developed by NHTSA and approved by the IACP. SFST training is vital in effectively investigating, detecting, arresting, and convicting impaired drivers.

During the NHTSA/IACP 24-hour SFST course, law enforcement officers learn

  • how to recognize impaired driving behavior;

  • what the importance of the SFST battery is and how to properly administer the tests that include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk and Turn, and One-Leg Stand;

  • when to make an impaired driving arrest;

  • how to write accurate and detailed reports; and

  • how to give clear and convincing courtroom testimony.

SFST training is used across the United States as well as in many other countries.

Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement: Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training was developed by NHTSA with input from the IACP and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. ARIDE was created to address the gap in impaired driving training between SFST and the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program, commonly referred to as the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Training Program.

ARIDE bridges the gap between these two programs by providing police officers with general knowledge related to drug impairment and by promoting the use of DREs in states that have the DEC Program.

Significantly, ARIDE requires students to demonstrate their SFST proficiency. The ARIDE program also stresses the importance of securing the most appropriate biological sample in order to identify substances likely to cause impairment.

ARIDE is not intended to replace DRE training, which is much more intensive and skill-based. ARIDE is not a prerequisite for DRE training, but officers who complete ARIDE may decide to enhance their skills and complete DRE training. For states that do not yet provide DRE training, or for agencies with limited training budgets, ARIDE meets the need for increasing officers’ knowledge base for identifying drugs that impair driving. In addition, ARIDE helps to promote the DEC Program and the use of DREs.

DEC Program: The DEC Program focuses on detecting and apprehending drug-impaired drivers. The program is managed and coordinated by the IACP with NHTSA support.

The program began in the early 1970s by the Los Angeles Police Department. Due to the program’s success in identifying drug-impaired drivers, it became an international program expanding to other states and eventually into Canada and other countries. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia currently participate in the program nationally. As of December 31, 2009, there were over 6,500 DREs in the United States and another 500 in Canada.13

The DEC program trains police officers and other public safety officials as DREs through a three-phase training curriculum consisting of (1) the DRE pre-school (16 hours); (2) the DRE school (56 hours); and (3) DRE field certification (approximately 40 hours).

The training relies heavily on SFST, which provides the foundation for the DEC Program. Once trained and certified, a DRE becomes a highly effective officer skilled in detecting and identifying persons impaired or affected by alcohol and/or drugs.

DREs are trained to conduct a systematic and standardized 12-step drug evaluation consisting of physical, mental, and medical components. The evaluation takes approximately one hour to complete, covering the person’s appearance and behavior, vital signs, and the person’s automatic responses and reactions.

The DRE also administers carefully designed psychophysical tests to evaluate the person’s judgment, informationprocessing ability, coordination, and various other characteristics.

The DRE systematically considers everything about the person that could indicate the influence of drugs or the presence of a medical condition. After completing the evaluation, the DRE renders an opinion as to whether or not the person is impaired and, if so, determines the category of drugs likely causing the impairment.

DRE testimony has been widely accepted throughout the United States.

Drug Impairment for Educational Professionals: Drug Impairment for Educational Professionals (DITEP) is a drug impairment detection program developed by the IACP to help combat the growing problem of drugs in the educational environment. Designed to assist school administrators, teachers, school nurses, and school resource officers in detecting possible drug impairment in students, DITEP provides the necessary tools and strategies to take appropriate action and needed intervention. The strengths of SFST, DRE training, and ARIDE are combined to form the 16-hour DITEP training program.

DITEP assists school officials and healthcare professionals to aggressively evaluate and detect drug use in schools and ease the disruption caused by individuals abusing drugs. The training also helps deter people from driving to and from schools while impaired by either alcohol or drugs.

Protecting Lives, Saving Futures: This impaired driving training program was developed by the American Prosecutors Research Institute’s National Traffic Law Center, with input from NHTSA and the IACP. The program is designed to train both law enforcement and prosecutors in a single class in detecting, apprehending, and prosecuting impaired drivers. The program brings law enforcement officers and prosecutors together as a team to successfully prosecute impaired driving violators. It also helps ease the challenges and difficulties that prosecutors and law enforcement officers face in impaired driving cases.

Prosecuting the Drugged Driver: Prosecuting the Drugged Driver is a curriculum developed in cooperation by NHTSA and the National Traffic Law Center. The course is designed to build a team of prosecutors and law enforcement officers to help detect, apprehend, and prosecute impaired drivers. Prosecutors and law enforcement officers participate in interactive training classes taught by a multidisciplinary faculty.

The course includes an overview of the drug-impaired driving problem in the United States and the substantive areas of training that police officers receive to be certified as DREs. Learning about drug categories, signs, and symptoms of drug influence, the role of the DRE in establishing impairment, and the role of toxicology in these cases will assist the prosecutor to effectively and persuasively present this information in court.

The course also addresses how to qualify the DRE as an expert witness in court and how to respond to common defense challenges. Participants are given the opportunity to prosecute a mock case including direct examinations of a DRE and a toxicologist. Throughout every stage of the course, participants receive direct feedback on their courtroom skills with assistance in how to compose more persuasive arguments and deliver more dynamic presentations.

Lethal Weapon DUI Vehicular Homicide: This four-day course is designed for the experienced DUI prosecutor. It highlights the importance of creating and improving police–prosecutor teams in investigating and prosecuting vehicular homicide cases. It features extensive presentations on crash reconstruction, including direct and cross-examination of crash reconstructionists. Additional topics include the role of the prosecutor at the scene of a fatality and working with hostile witnesses and with victims’ families.

The Future

The United States has one of the safest highway systems in the world, due in part to improved design characteristics, engineering, and many other safety improvements on its roadways. Also, great strides in reducing the number of fatalities per 100-million vehicle miles traveled are occurring. However, the portion of crashes involving alcohol and/or other drugs continues to be one of the highest in the world. A crash involving an alcohol- or drug-impaired driver continues to be one of the most frequently committed violent crimes in the United States today. The training courses described above help law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and toxicologists combat impaired driving, make our highways safer places and assist in lifesaving efforts. ■


1U.S. Department of Transportation, “USDOT Releases 2002 Highway Fatality Statistics,” press release, July 17, 2003; and Russell Weisman, “The High Cost of Drunk Driving,” Article Alley, January 5, 2006, (accessed January 29, 2010).
2NHTSA, “Overview,” Traffic Safety Facts: 2008 Data, DOT HS 811 162 (accessed January 29, 2010).
3Steve Blackistone, National Transportation Safety Board, testimony before the House and Senate Transportation Committees, Kentucky General Assembly on “Highway Safety in Kentucky,” October 7, 2003, Frankfort, Kentucky, (accessed January 29, 2010).
4NHTSA, “Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” Traffic Safety Facts: 2008 Data, DOT HS 811 155, (accessed January 29, 2010).
6NHTSA, “Fatalities and Fatality Rates in Alcohol-Impaired-Driving Crashes by State, 2007-2008” Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note, December 2009, DOT HS 811 250, (accessed January 29, 2010).
7NHTSA, “Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” Traffic Safety Facts: 2007 Data, table 3, DOT HS 810 985, (accessed January 29, 2010).
8NHTSA, “Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” Traffic Safety Facts: 2007 Data.
9NHTSA, “Trend and Pattern Analysis of Highway Crash Fatality by Month and Day,” table 2, March 2005, DOT HS 809 855, (accessed January 29, 2010).
10Richard Compton and Amy Berning, “Results of the 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers,” NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts, July 2009, DOT HS 811175, (accessed anuary 29, 2010).
12Highway Safety Committee, “A Renewed Effort to Eliminate Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving,” IACP Resolution adopted at the 113th Annual Conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, (Boston Massachusetts, 2006) (accessed January 29, 2010).
13The IACP DRE Certification Database.

Please cite as:

Chuck Hayes, "Combating Impaired Driving," The Police Chief 77 (March 2010): 68–70, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 3, March 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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