Law enforcement has gone high-tech over the past 40 years, with digital communications systems, dashboard cameras, on-board computers and tasers. But one thing is virtually unchanged.
Roadside sobriety tests.
Those suspected of impaired driving can expect the same battery of tests each time, no matter where they get pulled over. These include the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk and turn and the one-legged stand.
During the HGN, officers follow the gaze of the eye on an object. Alcohol affects the central nervous system and breaks down an eye’s ability to smoothly follow an object moving from side to side.
The tests haven’t changed, but the substances people abuse have.
“We see a lot of drivers who are on prescription medications, stimulants (methamphetamine) and marijuana,” said Bridgeport police officer J. T. Manoushagian. “There are also a lot of poly-drug users, people under the influence of two or more drugs or mixing drugs with alcohol.”
These drugs aren’t quantified as simply as alcohol is, with a statutory 0.08 blood-alcohol limit. And the signs people give when impaired by one or more of these drugs are different from those exhibited by people under the influence of alcohol. Without the proper training, it can be more difficult for officers to recognize what substances someone is on – and more difficult to charge and prosecute someone for driving while impaired
Officers can use the same tests they’ve always used – they just have to look for different signs. The clues paint a highly accurate picture of what mind-altering substances someone is using while driving.
“I’ve been 100 percent accurate to date on DRE (drug recognition expert) tests,” Manoushagian said. “I’ve done about 25 to 30 in my career.”
In order to help Wise County law enforcement better identify what drugs people are on, a training course was offered locally this week for officers and educators. Personnel from throughout Wise County and North Texas participated in Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Course (ARIDE) at Weatherford College Wise County Campus.
Manoushagian said it’s a bridge between giving the standard field sobriety tests and being a DRE. Manoushagian is the only certified DRE in Wise County.
“One of our top priorities is to make the streets safer and to reduce the number of roadway fatalities,” Manoushagian said. “Driver impairment is a top cause of fatal accidents. Our hope for this class is to improve safety on our roads.”
He said after this week’s round of training, Bridgeport police department will have six patrol officers trained in ARIDE. It is his goal to bring the program back next year and train every officer.
“We would be the only police department in the state to have all our patrol officers trained in this,” Manoushagian said. “I appreciate the efforts of our chief to allow us to pursue programs like this.”
The course was hosted by Bridgeport Police Department, and Sam Houston State University’s Criminal Justice Center presented the training. Two DRE instructors, Robert Provost of Euless Police Department and Ray Dominguez of Dallas Police Department, provided the instruction.
The class was free and funded by a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation.