DUI: Over 100,000 Dead and 3 Million Injured in this Decade
It’s a crime that is committed more than 300,000 times per day in the United States. It kills more than 10,000 and injures another 300,000 each year with economic damages exceeding $40 billion. That crime is driving under the influence, and it happens at a staggering rate on the roadways our families and friends drive upon.
I, along with the other dedicated instructors and the supervisor of the Traffic Operations Section here at DOCJT, have been tasked with the education and training of our law enforcement officers within the commonwealth to prevent or apprehend violators of this crime. We adhere to and instruct on a strict set of standards set forth by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for conducting field sobriety tests and they include: horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk and turn and the one leg stand. We instruct these field sobriety tests in a specific manner, identify clues of impairment (if they are present), and in turn, they help our law enforcement officers determine if probable cause is established for a DUI charge.
Many have seen a drunk and can identify the obvious clues like blood shot eyes, slurred speech and diminished physical capabilities. We have said, “look at that guy, he is plastered,” but in our judicial system, we need more evidence for a DUI charge. We teach officers to look at how the vehicle is being driven, how the driver stopped when pulled over, what they said and what we saw, heard or smelled when the driver was behind the wheel. How did the driver exit the vehicle? How did they perform on the standard field sobriety tests?
We utilize wet labs during basic and in-service training so our students have hands-on training with impaired individuals and can relate that training back to the roadside to make correct decisions. We teach officers portable breath test (PBT) operations if a PBT is available to use. It is there to help establish what type of substance has caused the impairment and can be used as additional probable cause evidence. If alcohol is the contributing factor of impairment, we suggest that the officer obtain an evidentiary breath test. If alcohol is not the contributing factor, we suggest a blood test.
If an evidentiary breath test is warranted, a certified breath-test operator is needed to conduct this test, and they must be trained to a specific set of operational procedures. The Traffic Operations Section has been tasked with this training. We train hundreds of new officers and thousands of experienced officers each year to become certified or re-certified breath test operators. Once trained or re-certified, our law enforcement officers have the ability to collect additional evidence with a breath test and can testify about the results of that test. In our training, we stress to our students that they should always remember the arrest was made before a number was identified with such a test, and they should stress the impairment observed along the roadside as the most critical aspect during their testimony.
It is a common misconception that an individual has to be at a .080 intoxication level or higher for a DUI to be validated in our court system. The .080 level is a per se level set by our legislators. That basically means that if you are a first-time drunk or a career alcoholic, everyone is impaired at the .080 level, but a DUI can/will occur at lower limits. A new effort is being made to reduce this per se level to a .050, as that is a truer level of when impairment happens and corresponds to American Medical Association research.
Education and awareness, not only for our law enforcement officers, but also for public officials, judges, prosecutors and the general public, is how we can reduce the impact of this horrific crime across the Commonwealth of Kentucky. A collaborated effort has been made by federal, state and local authorities, along with private organizations, in a concept called “General Deterrence.” This includes education and awareness. We have seen a reduction in this crime over the past decade, but the numbers are still alarming.
The Department of Criminal Justice Training, the Kentucky State Police Academy, the Lexington Police Academy and the Louisville Police Academy, along with the Attorney General Office and the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, are just a few of the state agencies that have dedicated time and resources to combat this crime. We are asking that every chief, sheriff, post captain, and community leader make this crime a high priority to combat this epidemic.
About the writer: Duane Bowling is a law enforcement training instructor at the Department of Criminal Justice Training. He has logged many hours of instruction on this subject and has facilitated more than 125,000 breath tests, more than 75,000 field sobriety tests and conducted hundreds of wet labs with thousands of drinking subjects.