DRE program helps to combat drug-impaired drivers

DRE program helps to combat drug-impaired drivers

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"Of my DUI arrests," Miller said, "I am seeing more drug impairment than alcohol impairment, or a combination of the two." "Of my DUI arrests," Miller said, "I am seeing more drug impairment than alcohol impairment, or a combination of the two."
Patrolling our interstates and looking for erratic driving is an everyday part of the job for Trooper Eric Miller. Patrolling our interstates and looking for erratic driving is an everyday part of the job for Trooper Eric Miller.
Trooper Miller told us the numbers prove just how unsafe our roads can be, and he feels an obligation to do something about it. Trooper Miller told us the numbers prove just how unsafe our roads can be, and he feels an obligation to do something about it.

By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - It seems every day we hear about a new tool or program trying to enhance the war on drugs.

There is an elite group of officers trained and certified to be called "drug recognition experts." Less than one percent of all law enforcement earns this title, but we caught up with one of the DREs here in East Tennessee to learn more about the impact this program is really making.

Patrolling our interstates and looking for erratic driving is an everyday part of the job for Trooper Eric Miller.

Trooper Miller told us the numbers prove just how unsafe our roads can be, and he feels an obligation to do something about it.

"According to The National Highway Safety Administration, impaired drivers continue to kill someone every 30 minutes. That's nearly 50 people a day," Miller said.

Many people assume impaired driving means alcohol, but times have changed.

"Of my DUI arrests," Miller said, "I am seeing more drug impairment than alcohol impairment, or a combination of the two."

As a result, Miller has gone through a rigorous certification process to become a Drug Recognition Expert. This is now a standardized international program. There are only 96 DRE's in our state.

State coordinator Richard Holt told us the officers that become DREs are the "best of the best," saying they must complete 56 hours of academic training, 40 hours of field certification, observe 12 subjects under the influence other than alcohol and much more.

Tennessee has had a DRE program since 2005, but Holt says it's not widely talked about in the media.

He went on to tell us more of the background, "The idea started in the mid 80's in California. A sergeant there noticed impaired drivers under the influence of something other than alcohol."

Back on the streets, Trooper Miller and other DREs have a standardized 12 step protocol to follow if a driver is suspected of being on drugs.

Some of the steps include a muscle tone evaluation, an eye exam, a divided attention test, a vital signs check and dark room exam.

DREs are trained to use all of their results to determine what class of drug someone is using. Their expertise can be used as testimony in a court of law to help prove that drug use caused impaired driving.

There are a few other DREs in our area, including three at the University of Tennessee, one at the Knoxville Police Department and two with Knox County.

Other agencies and officers can call on any DRE to assist in an impaired driving stop. The full evaluation requires that the subject go back to police or THP Headquarters and usually takes about an hour.

For more information on the program, you can go to this website.

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