Combating the drug-impaired driver : a prescription for safer highways.
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Combating the drug-impaired driver : a prescription for safer highways.

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    In recent years, the Commonwealth of Virginia has increased its efforts to improve highway safety by combating the problems created by drunken drivers. However, law enforcement officials still face major obstacles in their efforts to detect and prosecute persons who drive under the influence of drugs (DUID). The greatest impediment to DUID enforcement is the lack of certain crucial statutory provisions. Specifically, Virginia's implied consent law (Va. Code 18.2-268) does not allow a police officer to require a driver to submit to a chemical analysis of his bodily fluids to determine drug content. As a result, the state is precluded from obtaining the most meaningful evidence of drug-impaired driving. Additionally, the DUID offense (Va. Code 18.2-266(iii)) is not clearly defined, and thus leaves doubts as to the degree of impairment necessary to constitute a violation of the law. Finally, Virginia police officers' limited training in identifying the symptoms of drug impairment makes it difficult for them to detect DUID offenders and reduces the evidentiary value of their testimony at trial. To remove these obstacles to DUID enforcement, it is recommended that Virginia follow the lead of the 31 states which include provisions for drug testing in their implied consent statute. To implement this change in the law, the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services must be given the capacity to analyze DUID specimens. Should drug testing become a part of the implied consent statute, several other statutory amendments need to be made as well: (i) law enforcement officials must be allowed to test for drugs after a blood-alcohol test has been administered, (2) police must be allowed to designate the type of specimen to be obtained for testing, and (3) a person's refusal to consent to drug testing should be made admissible in a DUID case. The DUID offense in 18.2-266(iii) should be redefined to make it clear that drug-induced impairment of driving skills is the essence of the offense. To remedy the deficiencies in police training, Virginia officers should be given better instruction in the identification of drug-impairment as it relates to a person's ability to drive safely. A pilot project for developing specially trained "Drug Recognition Experts" is also recommended on the basis of the highly successful program used by the Los Angeles Police Department. Through this combination of strengthened DUID laws, improved training of police officers, and properly equipped testing facilities, Virginia should have the capacity to detect and prosecute the drug-impaired driver.
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