Detecting Drugged Driving: South Dakota Police Getting Trained on Warning Signs


Some people may forget that DUI does not necessarily mean that someone was driving under the influence of alcohol. DUI may rather apply to being under the influence of drugs while driving; just ask Colorado District Attorney Craig Westberg.

Last week, Westberg was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of sleeping pills after residents witnessed his vehicle swerving in and out of different lanes. Westberg said that he was unaware of the possible effects of the sleeping pills on his driving.

Nonetheless, he now faces misdemeanor charges for careless driving and driving under the influence of a drug.

Since drugged driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving, it's no surprise that law enforcement officials are taking a more proactive stance on driving under the influence of drugs. Take South Dakota Law Enforcement officers as an example.

South Dakota officers can now take a two-week Drug Recognition Expert program that essentially serves as a training course for law enforcement to recognize when a person may be driving under the influence of something other than alcohol.

This program aims to help officers notice red flags that a driver may be under the influence of drug, like when a suspect passes a breathalyzer test but fails field sobriety tests. The program teaches officers that such instances are often telltale signs that a person may be under the influence of a drug instead of alcohol.

So how can officers confirm their suspicions of drugged driving? South Dakota State Trooper Isaac Kurtz detailed in a Keloland TV story how officers can administer a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) exam in addition to common field sobriety tests like walking a straight line.

The DRE exam typically involves a series of clinical tests, like checking blood pressure, pulse rate and body temperature, to further investigate suspicions of drugged driving. Kurtz elaborated that officers may check the suspect's pupils in both the light and dark and also examine their noses and mouths for signs of drug use. Kurtz also detailed how officers could interpret green debris in the teeth as being marijuana and white coating on the tongue to mean that a suspect "smoked something hot."

Kurtz, who is one of 20 officers in the state who are certified Drug Recognition Experts, added that the program is helping officers become more aware of the warning signs of drugged driving, especially when suspects are not cooperative with them. Kurtz offered his opinion that the program will help officers make more DUI arrests in the future as compared to the past.

With that said, South Dakota DUI law does not require an officer to administer a DRE exam to arrest a person on suspicion of drugged driving. This point is yet another example of the importance of knowing the DUI laws in your state .

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