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On the Lookout for Drugged Drivers


Among the many infractions that fall under the umbrella of DUI, driving while under the influence of illegal or prescription drugs has become a major challenge for Arizona law enforcement agencies across the state. Not only have officers seen an increase in the number of incidents where drugs are present and impairing drivers, but they also face the difficult challenge of knowing how to recognize it when it’s happening.

When it comes to determining whether or not a driver is under the influence of drugs, law enforcement cannot always rely on the same tests and technology that works in alcohol-related incidents. Breathalyzers are primarily used to measure alcohol presence in the body and even some field sobriety tests do not work the same way when used with someone who may be high on prescription medication or illegal narcotics.

Yet most people are willing to agree that drivers high on drugs are just as dangerous if not more so than those driving drunk from alcohol. This creates a very real and serious situation for law enforcement agencies working to keep Arizona roads and highways safe. There may be situations where an officer comes in contact with a driver that is impaired and unfit to drive, but because that officer is unable to identify the signs, the driver is allowed to continue on.

In other cases, an officer can clearly see that a driver is impaired, but because they are unable to detect any alcohol, they are not able to charge the suspect with a crime.

To help curb this growing problem, there are now programs in place across the country that educate and train law enforcement officers on what they should be looking for when it comes to drugged drivers. Once this intense training is completed, these Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) are better prepared and more knowledgeable about what to look for as they engage with drivers who may be on drugs.

DRE’s are trained to look for “tells” such as twitching, constricting and dilated pupils, tongue color, track marks on the arms and legs, body temperature and pulse rates to name a few. They also are trained on how to interact and question subjects who may be under the influence to get a better sense of how serious the situation is.

But just looking for random eye movement or knee jerks isn’t everything. Law enforcement officers must be able to identify the symptoms and reactions that accompany the seven different categories of drugs. These include:

  • Narcotic Analgesics (heroin, painkillers, other opiates)
  • Depressants (Alcohol, “benzos”)
  • Stimulants (cocaine, methamphetamine)
  • Inhalants (aerosols, solvents)
  • Hallucinogens (peyote, lsd)
  • Cannabis (marijuana, hashish)
  • Dissociative Anesthetics (PCP)

Typically, DRE’s administer their tests when a driver has exhibited behaviors of DUI, but no alcohol is detected in their system. This usually happens at the booking area where a suspect has been brought after failing a field sobriety test. The drug recognition process often starts with blood pressure tests followed by taking a suspect’s temperature and monitoring their pupils with an instrument called a “pupilometer.”

What does this mean for Arizona drivers?

The offices of Nagle & Crider Attorneys at Law always recommends first that drivers steer clear of problems by choosing not to drink or do drugs and then drive. If, however, you have been pulled over and arrested for suspected DUI, an attorney in your corner can make a huge difference as far as when tests are administered and whether or not the results of those tests carry any weight with the courts. As a general rule, you should always call an attorney when suspected of DUI.

If you or a loved one are involved in a DUI case where drug use was suspected, call Naegle & Crider at 480-378-9000

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