Police would get help in identifying drugged drivers under a measure sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
“The bottom line is, our cops need a breathalyzer-like technology that works to identify drug-impaired drivers, on-the-spot, before they cause irreparable harm,” Sen. Schumer said in a press release. “We have made tremendous progress in combating drunk driving, we cannot allow those gains to be erased by drugged drivers.”
The measure is called the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Act of 2011, or Mariah’s Act. It is named after an Arkansas teenage girl who was killed in accident caused by texting and driving. The measure includes funding for technology and training to help police detect drivers under the influence of drugs. As of early February, the measure was awaiting a vote by the full Senate as part of the overall transportation-funding bill.
In his press release, Schumer cited statistics to justify the measure. Since 2001, drugged driving arrests in New York State have risen 35 percent, Sen. Schumer said in a press release. In Central New York, 147 drugged drivers were arrested in 2011. That’s up from 112 arrests in 2001.
The New York State Police have intense training to deal with impaired drivers, said Technical Sgt. Doug Paquette. All officers are required to have at least 24 hours of training in detecting whether drivers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Under that basic training, officers learn to judge drivers’ sobriety by tests like standing on one leg or walking in a straight line. In addition, all officers go through two days worth of advanced traning, Paquette said, where they learn to focus on drivers’ eyes to see if the pupils are big or small. That helps determine if the driver needs to undergo a blood test for drugs, Paquette said.
A small group of state troopers go through an elite 200-hour training program to make them experts in detecting the kind of drugs affecting a driver.
In Syracuse, Police Capt. Shannon Trice supports the measure as necessary to improve training resources for detecting impaired drivers. “We need more programs to be conducted,” Trice said.
All Syracuse police officers are required to take basic training. In addition, the department has about 15 officers who have taken the advanced training and five are experts in recognizing the kinds of drugs that could be affecting a driver, Trice said.
In terms of technology, some equipment can sample someone’s saliva and determine if the person has drugs in his or her the system, said Trice. But they are expensive. That’s why the federal funding would come in handy, said Trice.
Under the proposal from Schumer and Pryor, the funding would go to National Highway Transportation Safety Administration for research. And individual states could also apply for grants.
(Jake Reiner is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in European history.)