Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Trouble with DUID: Part II

So in the last post we began our discussion on DUID and some of the many problems that go along with the legislation involved to enforce it. We spoke of how legislation is often reactionary and because of that only focuses on the minutia and not the overall concern.

So what is our concern with DUID?

I would hazard a guess and say that our concern is that we do not want potentially dangerous people driving on our roads, and by having a DUID law we have said that people using drugs fit into that category of dangerous people.

So what's the problem? Well, lots of people are on "drugs" in this country at any one time. Does that mean that anyone using a prescription drug should be banned from driving? The legislature clearly doesn't want that, and I agree that would go too far. Some prescription drugs are impairing and others are not. How do we know that the person is impaired? With drugs, impairment seems to occur at different levels in different people, making per se limits controversial even in the scientific community.

Some countries have operators accused of DUID examined by doctors at arrest and have the doctor determine whether they are impaired or not, which is then confirmed by blood test. In this country we have a DRE program, which in theory, should do the same thing. Specially trained officers certified by this program are trained to conduct a 12 point exam to determine whether a person is impaired by drugs or not. The blood is then tested to confirm their observations.

So that should solve it right? Well, no and for two reasons.

#1. In our state at least the statute states that when drugs are involved, the operator must be incapable of operating safely. So, if the subject crashed their car and they are under the influence of an illegal drug, then great! The reality is that's not what you see most often. What if the drug they're using is prescription and within therapeutic ranges? Are they impaired or not? It depends. What about on a snowy day where lots of car crashes have occurred? Can you prove it was the drug and not the snow?

#2. DRE's are often told to ensure they don't make errors to simply have the blood screened for everything. Ok. Now what? Although it's not the intention, screening for everything implies that they cannot determine the impairment or at least what caused it. Is it enough for them simply to see impairment without knowing what drug or class of drug caused it? That depends on how we want to use the information. Don't get me wrong, I think the DRE program is an excellent system with well trained officers. I just think it's not always used to it's fullest potential.

Now, if the statute was like the alcohol statute where impairment was to the slightest degree rather than incapable of operating safely, I think the DRE program would be able to work more effectively. We would have a subject suspected of impairment from drugs, the DRE would confirm they were impaired and the test result would support the observations. Then it wouldn't matter so much whether they were stopped for speeding or for crashing their car.

The trouble with impairment in driving however is that there are many things that will impair your driving and most aren't illegal. Experience, age, fatigue, distraction. People have tried to address issues like these by banning hand held cell phones only to find that it's the actual conversation that distracts people and not the holding of the phone.Others are in the same boat as prescription drugs, we don't want to ban grandma from driving just because this happens.

So what do we do?

I'm not going to pretend I know the answer to that. But I do believe it's time that we start looking at the big picture rather than chasing lists. The idea of banning any chemical which binds to a certain receptor is an interesting idea, and it is going towards the right direction of thinking about the problem rather than the specific instant.

It's something to think about anyway.

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