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Educating officers to crack down on drugged drivers
Drug detection experts are coming to a DUI checkpoint near you. This, as the number of drugged drivers on the road climbs, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety. Earlier this week, the agency reported 30 percent of drivers killed in traffic collisions in the state in 2010 were under the influence of legal and/or illegal drugs, a sharp increase over 2006 numbers. While noting that DUI fatalities have been dropping, the number of drugged driving is on the rise, the OTS said. Apparently, the public is not aware of the dangers of driving while under the influence of prescription and/or over the counter drugs, narcotics, stimulants or synthetic substitutes, the agency said. When combined with alcohol, the effect of both the drug and the beverage are heightened, the OTS reported. Locally, law enforcement officers have noticed the problem with drugged driving and the public's misinformation about the impact of drugs on their driving ability. “In 2009, half of the fatal collisions in Santa Cruz County were caused by drug DUI, with marijuana being far in the lead,” said Officer Sarah Jackson, spokesperson for the CHP's Aptos office. That year, Santa Cruz County logged seven fatal collisions that killed nine people, Jackson said. Of those seven crashes, four were caused by DUI drivers. Those four collisions killed six people, she said. “Sadly, when I speak to local high school students who are preparing to drive, the perception is that marijuana does not impair their ability to drive a vehicle,” Jackson continued. “I fear that the rise in marijuana use among teens resulting from the public acceptance may lead to more young lives lost in collisions.” To stop drugged drivers in their tracks, the OTS is teaming up with the CHP to train officers statewide on drugged driver detection. Because toxicology tests are expensive and drugged driving is under-reported and/or under-recognized, the duo have been using a federally funded program called, Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In the past five months, they've trained more than 700 officers from police departments all over California. What's more, the CHP is training officers to be drug recognition experts to work DUI checkpoints and other federally funded operations aimed at catching drugged drivers. The state currently has more than 1,000 drug recognition experts – more than any other state in the nation, the OTS reported. Sgt. Matt Eller, traffic sergeant for the Capitola Police Department applauds the effort to crack down on drugged driving. “Some jurisdictions prosecute aggressively, some do not,” he said. “For our Santa Cruz Courts to prosecute a marijuana DUI, under California Vehicle Code section 23152(a), the officer must show how impaired the driver is. The fact the driver has a medical marijuana card is only an issue for 'possession.'" That possession charge carries different penalties than a DUI, he said. Eller hopes drivers take heed that driving while under the influence of drugs is dangerous. “If you are impaired by prescription medication or medical marijuana, you should not drive,” he said.