The breathalyzer.  Walking the line.

They’re common DUI tests everyone knows about.

The newest?  Blood draws.

In a recent PBS article, a scenario was described where at a DUI checkpoint, a driver was suspected of being impaired by drugs after impairment was demonstrated.  But the subject passed a portable breath test for alcohol. 

Vince Vaughn

(Photo courtesy Tulsa Police Department)

 

The officer sent an electronic warrant request to a judge, and within 10 minutes, had the authority to draw blood.  A mobile medical unit provided the service, and it was concluded that the driver was impaired by marijuana and a sedative.

These roadside DUI checkpoints are becoming more commonplace as officers continually battle against impaired drivers. 

Driving while impaired has been a problem for years, and now officers are faced with determining the level of a driver’s impairment when alcohol isn’t involved or isn’t the primary intoxicant.  Several states have legalized the sale and use of marijuana, and that directly relates to an increase in impaired drivers on our roads. 

The problem with marijuana and other drugs is even though physical signs of impairment may be present, the old stand-by of a portable breathalyzer is nearly useless. The only true and correct way to determine the level of impairment when drugs are involved is via blood test.

 

As usual, procedures and events like these draw criticism from civil liberties attorney and groups like the ACLU. Citizen advocate groups sound off. Other groups like Copblock and Black Lives Matters protest to have these events shut down – the very checkpoints that stop and deter DUI offenders.

I lived in San Antonio, Texas during 2010 and 2011, and the district attorney, in coordination with the San Antonio Police Department, announced “no refusal” weekends centered around major holidays and summer events. 

These events and their associated checkpoints yielded hundreds of DUI arrests, taking impaired drivers off the road and clearly preventing others from taking the chance at driving impaired just because of their presence. 

 

Each of these checkpoints had a magistrate present to issue a warrant when a refusal of either a field sobriety test or breathalyzer test occurred.  Medical personal were on scene to immediately perform a blood test, revealing real-time results and a true measure of impairment. 

These “no refusal” events were heavily advertised on television news and social media, and despite protests and criticism, were incredibly effective at reducing DUI-related accidents and ultimately, injuries and deaths.

This newer system precludes having a magistrate or judge on hand at every DUI checkpoint, as obtaining a warrant is handled via email, a chain of custody is established for this communication, and the medical crew can be housed in an ambulance or police van and remain mobile, covering a wide area. 

It was noted in the PBS article that from the initiation of contact with the impaired driver, until the driver was taken into custody was only 79 minutes. 

This newer system surely works better than waking a judge up out of a sound sleep, using a fax machine or vehicle to transport a warrant, and transporting a suspect to a hospital for a blood draw. 

It reduces time, manpower, and the paper trail associated with typical test refusal or impairment due to drugs that can’t be tested under normal means.

I applaud the departments that are using technology to their advantage and applaud them even more for increasing their ability to remove impaired drivers from our roadways.