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Justice with Jessica: Training from CDOT helps officers identify impaired drivers

Impaired Driving
Posted at 11:05 AM, Jan 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-13 13:05:27-05

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation is helping officers determine whether motorists are driving under the influence. And to do so, the department is holding a Drug Recognition Expert certification training.

The training is coming at a time when Colorado had record-breaking fatalities on the road. More than a third of those wrecks involved impaired drivers.

The nine-day course helps officers learn the skills to determine whether a driver is impaired by certain substances — or a mix of them. They also learn how to properly document the cases and present them in the court room.

"There is some new data out there indicating that people are combining alcohol with other drugs, which really amplifies their impairment," says Sam Cole, Traffic Safety Manager for CDOT. "That's why law enforcement has to increase their skills to be able to identify those other drugs that are impairing people."

In 2022, more than 700 people died on Colorado roads. Thirty-seven percent of those crashes involved impaired drivers.

Officers like Carlos Medina, who is taking the Drug Recognition Expert certification training, is hoping to change those stats. For him, it's personal.

"I was hit by a drunk driver, when I was 18 years old," says Medina. "Thankfully, I wasn't injured."

Select officers from 16 different agencies are undergoing the training. Each one, hoping to protect the people living in their neighborhoods.

"I noticed that it became a problem within my jurisdiction," says Medina. "I think it saves a life every time I... you know, make a DUI arrest or something like that."

Colorado currently has 146 Drug Recognition Experts. This training aims to increase the number to more than 200 experts in the near future.

The specialized recognition process takes about an hour for officers to perform. They assess a person's vital signs, automatic responses, ability to process information, and more. It helps them detect not only whether a person is impaired, but what substance might be impairing them.

Instructor Brian Phillips says it's something more officers need to learn as more drivers are found to be impaired behind the wheel.

"A selfish decision to choose to drive impaired... is a decision to where you are taking other people's loved ones lives into your hand," says Phillips.

It's a problem Medina says he's ready to confront in his own neighborhood.

"We're able to get this training and take it back to our communities and make our communities and just the state of Colorado in general, a safer place," he says.