Officers train to recognize drugged drivers

Wisconsin State Patrol Sgt. Dan Diedrich demonstrates field testing for impaired drivers (WBAY photo)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The number of people driving under the influence of drugs is skyrocketing.

Law enforcement is finding a rapidly growing number of people impaired behind the wheel after using either illegal drugs or prescription medications.

To combat that, new efforts are underway to make spotting a drugged driver easier.

In Green Bay in January, two people passed out, and their car crashed. It's one of many suspected drugged driving cases in Northeast Wisconsin.

Now law enforcers are trying to learn to detect drug-impaired drivers before they hurt themselves or someone else. This is where a protocol called Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, or ARIDE, becomes critical.

You've seen these types of traffic stops before. "When I have you begin, I'm going to have you tilt your head backwards, close your eyes," an officer tells a driver during a field test.

"Our captain would like to see everybody within the patrol division, at least, trained in this step at least, if not as a drug recognition expert," Brown County Sheriff's Deputy Rob Wagner said.

Wagner is now an instructor teaching law enforcement across the state how to conduct standardized field tests similar to ones used for drunk driving, but these are specifically tailored to detect drug use.

They look for physical changes you cannot control.

"We'll see eyelid tremors, body tremors, we'll see sway. There's a multitude of things we can see during the finger-to-nose test," Wagner explains.

This is basic training, giving officers enough tools to spot drug impairment without the intense training and education that comes with being a drug recognition expert.

"Close your eyes. I'm going to have you approximate 30 seconds in your mind," an officer tells the driver.

The tests help officers detect not only drug use but the category of drug. People on meth or cocaine often count faster, while heroin slows their thinking.

It affects their decision-making behind the wheel and the safety of everyone around them.

"Unfortunately we have to share the roads with those folks," Wisconsin State Patrol Sgt. Dan Diedrich said, "so I think this is critical in establishing our mission and following through with safe driving and making sure we are keeping the roads safer."