TV shows and movies have taught us how drunk drivers behave when an officer pulls them over. They stumble while trying to walk a straight line and struggle to touch their nose with their finger. What does a drugged driver – someone impaired by something other than alcohol – act like?
There are about 200 officers in Washington, who are trained to know which drug a person is using, just by observing them.
Washington State Patrol Sergeant Mark Crandall is Drug Recognition Expert and a DRE trainer. In his 20 years as a trooper he’s seen thousands of people who use prescription or illegal drugs, then drive. Some of them are high on a combination of things.
“I arrested a painter who was inside a closed container. After work he had a couple of beers and was driving home about 4 a.m. The beers mixed with the fumes, he was high as a kite. By the time I got him out of the car, I saw him starting to inhale fresh air and watched him become sober,” Crandall says.
Marijuana, Methamphetamine and Oxycodone are the top three drugs used by those who’ve been pulled over so far in 2012.
“We find people who are using stuff off the shelf, the huffers, the recreational drug users who take something for a feeling, illegal drugs, the underground drugs, the heroin and meth,” says Crandall. “When you ask what we’re encountering, I always say what can you imagine? It can be anything.”
The blood alcohol limit for drunk driving is .08 percent in Washington.
Officers can measure the BAC in a portable breath test that can be used at the roadside.
But there isn’t an equivalent relationship between drugs and impairment levels.
Troopers don’t have an on-the-spot test for suspected drugged drivers. A blood draw is needed, with results coming later from a lab.
For the officer’s safety and others, it’s important to figure out pretty quickly what kind of drugged-up person they’re dealing with.
If a trooper suspects someone they’ve pulled over is on drugs, they can call for a DRE to analyze the driver.
The expert runs through a 12 step process, observing things like muscle tone.
“They can be really amped up and their muscles will be rigid and solid, or they’ll be on heroin and they’ll be loose and flaccid like Jello. We feel their arms, we have them make fists, and we feel their forearms, do they know the difference between flexing or not and can we see that,” he says.
Behavior is a give away. Someone on meth will be “agitated, fidgety and hyped up” because it’s a stimulant. Someone taking PCB might act like they have human strength or become paranoid.
Pupil dilation also tells them a lot. Ecstasy, cocaine, crack, meth, all dilate the eyes, which look totally black, barely any color shows. Heroin makes the pupils look like pin dots.
DREs try to stay ahead of drug users by going online to figure out what people are using to get high and how the substance impacts their behavior.
“As we’re trying to prohibit people from driving impaired on the highway, they’re actually writing about how to get their best high,” says Crandall.
“I visit those websites too, I look at it, I find it amazing what people will do to feel an effect or get high, to get an euphoric feeling or to make them sleep, or anything that effects their body.”
The average state patrol officer pulls over between 1,500 and 1,700 drivers a year. The DREs have a high batting average for knowing what drug someone is on, confirmed by blood tests.
By LINDA THOMAS
Photos courtesy WSP of Sgt. Mark Crandall. Photo above is of a single-vehicle crash that killed three people in the vehicle – the 15 year old unlicensed driver, an 18 year old and a 22 year old. The vehicle left the road at over 100 mph and crashed into a pole. Cannabis was found in the driverâ€™s blood toxicology and cause of crash was determined to be cannabis and speed.