With the continued efforts, both nationally and internationally, to legalize recreational marijuana, along with the increasing epidemic of opiate abuse, our roadways are being adversely impacted by an increasing number of drivers impaired by drugs, other than alcohol, or in combination with alcohol. This makes the need for officers trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) as important now as ever before.
Many states are seeing a growing trend in more drugged driving arrests than with drivers impaired by alcohol. Consequently, traffic fatalities involving drugs other than alcohol also appear to be on the increase in many states.
States that have already legalized marijuana for recreational or medical purposes are starting to see some alarming consequences. Fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled in Washington state after recreational marijuana was legalized.
In Colorado in 2015, 12.4% of fatal crashes involved a driver who tested positive for cannabis alone, up from 8.1% in 2013. The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes who tested positive for any drug hit a record 18.6% in 2015, again up from previous years.
Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and these findings serve as an eye-opener for what other states may experience with roadway safety after legalizing marijuana.
In Oregon, another state that recently legalized recreational marijuana, a tragic example occurred four days after legalization took place. A driver, under the influence of marijuana, struck and killed a pedestrian crossing the street at an intersection near Portland, Oregon. Witnesses reported seeing the driver smoking from a marijuana pipe moments before hitting the pedestrian. A DRE responded to the scene and assisted in the investigation. A second DRE later conducted a drug influence evaluation on the suspect, confirming that he was under the influence of cannabis. A blood sample obtained from the suspect confirmed the presence of marijuana in his system. With the assistance and expertise of the two DRE’s, the suspect pled guilty to Criminal Negligent Homicide and DUI-Drugs.
Currently there are over 8,000 IACP credentialed DREs in the United States, more than 3,680 law enforcement agencies have DREs on staff. In addition, there are over 500 DREs in Canada, and there are DREs in the United Kingdom, Guam, China, and Germany. The number of DREs continue to grow both nationally and internationally, however, more are needed to keep up with the drugged driving trends. As previously mentioned, if more states legalize marijuana, more DREs will be needed.
Law enforcement administrators must understand the impact of the drugged driving dilemma and be proactive in their approach to help reduce it. The IACP continues to assist states with several important drugged driving countermeasure training courses. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) is a two-day (16 hour) classroom drugged driving course taught by DRE instructors. It assists road officers to better detect many of the common signs, symptoms and indicators of drug impairment in suspected impaired drivers. The Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program, coordinated and managed by the IACP, trains officers to be Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) and is considered the premier drugged driving training.
To learn more about each of these two training opportunities, visit the IACP DEC Program webpage.