According to a study reported by Ken Valenti in The Journal News this week, arrests for driving while ability impaired by drugs (DWAID) is a prevalent problem in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties, and more drivers were arrested on this charge in 2011 than ten years ago, despite increased public awareness. The report determined that were 145 DWAID arrests in 2001 in the three county region, compared with 261 last year.
DWAID can result in the same penalties as if the driver is accused of a DWI, including a misdemeanor on the first charge, and a felony on the same charge within 10 years, or a felony on the first DWAID if there are children under the age of 16 in the vehicle (Leandra’s Law). DWAID is more difficult to detect than a DWI, as it is not as easy to determine a this offense by laboratory results, which would require a urine sample or blood test, as it is to conduct a chemical test of the motorist’s breath, which can be performed at the precinct. Additionally, DWI’s are often charged based on the officer’s common law observations of the driver, including slurred speech, alcohol on their breath, or bloodshot eyes, much easier to determine from alcohol than drugs.
Across New York State, many police officers are now being trained as “DRE”’s, or “Drug Recognition Expert[s].” There are 250 DRE officers in New York, which requires 200 hours of training in detecting the signs and symptoms of drug usage. Driving while impaired by drugs has become a bigger problem, according to the Westchester Department of Public Safety, due to increased prescription drug usage and abuse, as well as the use of illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
The problem may be worse than reported, since if the arresting officer determines that a driver is intoxicated by means of a chemical test result or field sobriety test, there is little incentive to also check whether the motorist is impaired by drugs. Countywide, Westchester police officers arrested 157 drivers for DWIAD in 2011, which was more than 40% of the overall impaired driving arrests. In 2011, Westchester had 196 DWAID and 1,628 DWI arrests, Putnam County arrested 15 for DWAID and 428 for DWI, and in Rockland County, there were 50 DWAID arrests and 640 for alcohol related impairment. In Westchester County, there was a large increase in DWAID arrests from 2001, when there were 122, (more than a 60% increase to 196 in 2011), but there was a decrease in DWI arrests from ten years ago, from 2,049 in 2001 to 1,628 in 2011.