A group of Utah law enforcement officers has begun a training program to learn how to detect drug-impaired drivers.
"We already have a commitment to the drunken driving problem. Now we have a program that gives us effectiveness in drug driving," said Utah Public Safety Department Deputy Commissioner Doug Bodrero.He said Utahns represent less than 1 percent of the nation's population but use more than 3 percent of the nation's medical prescriptions. Studies show a high incidence of prescription drug abuse in Utah, he said.
Prescription drug abuse coupled with the increased use of cocaine and other illicit drugs makes a drugged driver program imperative, he said.
Fifteen officers were picked from the Utah Highway Patrol, Salt Lake and West Valley police departments and the Salt Lake County sheriff's office to undergo the training that got under way Monday. The program was developed by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Following a two-day session in Salt Lake City, the 15 officers will go to Denver for two weeks of training and certification. Some of those officers will eventually train others and help expand the program to rural areas of Utah.
Now being used in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia and New York, the drug recognition program combines medical knowledge with field sobriety tests to develop a battery of tests to indicate drug influence.
Bodrero said Boulder, Colo., had no drug driving arrests during the three years before beginning the program there. In the year since, Boulder has had 88 arrests and convictions.
Arizona Highway Patrol Sgt. Bob Hohn, one of the instructors, said a Johns Hopkins University study that measured the ability of officers to detect prescription drugs in patients showed the officers picked drugged patients with a 92 percent accuracy.
Another study, comparing substance levels in drugged drivers on Los Angeles streets with lab results, showed the officers were right 97 percent of the time, Hohn said.