By: Mark Stodola, Impaired Driving Consultant
When I was new to the field of adult probation supervision in Phoenix, Arizona in the mid 1980’s, I inherited a caseload of about 70 individuals convicted of a wide variety of charges, including Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Having received a total of one week of training, I can’t say I was exactly prepared for the job. When I asked my supervisor if he had any suggestions to best supervise drunk drivers, the essence of his message was to “follow the bottle.” If you could keep drunk drivers from drinking, you would take care of the problem. Despite my best (very ignorant) efforts, my success rate in supervising drunk drivers was dismal at best. They were manipulative, didn’t identify as having done anything wrong, and were exceedingly quick to blame others for their problem.
Fast forward to 2021, and there has been well over 300,000 impaired driving traffic deaths in this country since I inherited my first probation caseload. Those of us working in the field of community supervision have come to learn the hard way that effectively addressing the criminogenic risk factors that lead an individual to get behind the wheel of an automobile while impaired is much more complex than simply to “follow the bottle.” Additionally, with 15 States having now legalized recreational marijuana and another 27 having legalized various forms of medicinal marijuana, we face even more challenges with impaired driving.
Here is what research tells us about this demanding population – Those individuals at highest risk to commit a new DWI typically have prior impaired driving convictions, prior traffic and criminal charges unrelated to a DWI, a diagnosable mental health condition, and have failed to respond to previous interventions such as treatment, community supervision and alcohol countermeasures. We also know there are polysubstance abusers. The assumption can no longer be made that impaired drivers, even those individuals arrested and convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, simply drank to excess and got behind the wheel of a car. In three separate studies in which individuals were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, subsequent drug tests indicated that approximately 40% of this population also had drugs in addition to alcohol in their system. In 2016, 43.6% of the drivers with known drug test results in fatality crashes were drug-positive and 50.5% of those drivers were positive for two or more drugs. However, because drugs can remain in an individual’s system for days or even weeks, we cannot infer that their presence necessarily means that they caused impairment for the driver at the time of the crash. While making this determination can be a challenge for law enforcement, in post sentence community supervision, drug presence alone is typically a violation of court terms.
Given the challenges in supervising the polysubstance using impaired driver, the following strategies enhance effectiveness for post sentence supervision and drug and alcohol testing:
- Do not assume that those individuals on community supervision for impaired driving will consistently use the same drugs. The most effective way to promote client accountability is to rotate drug panels. If a client knows that he is going to be tested for the same drugs, they may find a new drug of choice.
- Talk with your testing provider about drug trends. The popularity of a particular drug can vary not only from state to state, but county to county. Younger clients may gravitate towards designer drugs that are not typically used with our older criminal justice population.
- Use DWI specific validated assessment tools. The criminogenic risk factors for the DWI population differ from other individuals in the criminal justice system. There are a number of factors, apart from the use of drugs and alcohol that contribute to the likelihood DWI recidivism.
- Communicate and collaborate. Have an open line of communication between community supervision, treatment providers, and your drug and alcohol testing partners – the vendor you work with needs to be your resource expert so you develop an effective program to improve outcomes.
While addressing the myriad of challenges to drug impaired driving is certainly daunting, our successes can save lives on our roadways.
For more information on this topic, please check out a previously recorded webinar featuring Mark Stadola.