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North Dakota to Stiffen Penalties on DUI for Drugs?

If you take drugs and live in North Dakota, now is the time to get through drug addiction rehab. Currently, the North Dakota penalties for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) are much lower than those for driving under the influence of alcohol. But that’s about to change.

A petition to change the DUID laws has been presented to the North Dakota Association of Counties by Jan Kuhn, director of Sacajawea Substance Abuse Counseling in Dickinson. She’s concerned with protecting the community.

The problem is that the current DUID laws are vague. The current law says that a person can be charged with DUID if they’ve taken enough of the substance to be considered impaired. A judgment call, really, by someone who has been trained in determining whether the person is incapable of safe driving, or not.

The expert – known as a drug recognition expert – (s) have to have a lot of training – 100 hours of training, two weeks in a classroom and one week on-site. As part of the training, Dickinson Police Sgt. Nick Gates, a drug recognition expert, went to California to test individuals under the influence of drugs so he could identify them properly.

The proposed bill actually puts a limit on the content of drug in a person’s system. Just as alcohol laws impose of a limit of.08 blood alcohol content for regular drivers (lower for commercial drivers and those under 21); drugs will also have a limit -.5 nanograms. I would think that police would still be able to arrest someone who’s content is less that that – as they can with the alcohol limit – if it’s obvious that the person is impaired.

But people drinking are impaired far below the .08 limit of alcohol. According to Be Responsible About Drinking (BRAD), driving skills are significantly affected and there’s the possibility of criminal penalties from .04 on up, even for men who weigh 240 pounds. And yet someone is not considered legally intoxicated until they’ve reached twice that lower concentration.

Scary when you look at that. How many people are on the roads with their driving skills ‘significantly impaired’ who aren’t even consider intoxicated?

I would think it would be the same with drugs.

The North Dakota Association of Counties thinks they’ll have to train more drug recognition experts to implement Kuhn’s proposal. They’re worried about the cost of training them, and the time spent – the police are already pretty busy. There is also a limited number of places where officers can do the training. And not all officers are qualified to do the training, which could put a strain personnel. These factors might keep the law from being changed. They’re also concerned about the cost of testing.

Frankly, I don’t why it’s so complicated and difficult. If someone is driving strangely and / or is at the .5 nanogram level, why does someone need such extensive training to figure that out? You’d think that changing the law by putting a number on it – along with seeing whether a person is weaving, and so on – would make it possible for just about anyone to determine if someone is impaired. Why would you need someone to undergo 100 hours of training to check the drug content or recognize that someone is driving unsafely?

Maybe it would be a good idea to review the qualifications for who can adjudicate whether someone is impaired. It’s not rocket science. And the saliva testers would help.

I don’t get it. Maybe a little too much bureaucracy. I don’t envy them the red tape in their jobs.

Currently, suspects are urine tested and the urine has to go to a toxicology lab in California. In Colorado they’re testing hand-held saliva testers so you can get a reading instantly, just as you can with a breathalyzer for alcohol. Kuhn is pushing to do the same. That should make things even easier.

The Association is supposed to decide on this proposed bill in September. If you know someone who takes drugs and drives, now might be a good time to get them sorted out. Far preferable to prison – not to mention that they’re at risk by taking drugs, and are placing others at risk by driving when they’re under the influence. Law changes or no, the individuals’ problems with drugs need to be addressed.

Call us to find out more about what you can do to get off drugs, or help someone else do the same.

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