Status Report on Virginia's Program to Combat Drug-impaired Driving

Report No: 89-R17

Published in 1989

About the report:

Beginning on April 1, 1988, police officers in the Commonwealth of Virginia were given the statutory authority to require that drivers suspected of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) submit a blood sample to be tested for drug content. Although there are no quantitative measures to relate drug or drug metabolite concentration with impairment (i.e., as with blood alcohol concentration), the result of a drug screen test may be able to corroborate an officer's testimony that a suspect showed signs of impairment. Efforts to change the law began in the 1984 Session of the Virginia General Assembly with the acceptance of House Joint Resolution No. 10, which initiated a study to improve the enforcement of Virginia's law against drug-impaired driving. Many of the recommendations of the study were included in the bill passed in the 1987 Session of the General Assembly. A major difference between the resulting Virginia law and those of other states is that in Virginia, blood, not urine, is the fluid to be screened for drug content. In conjunction with the revised law, federal, state, and local officials have been working to establish pilot Drug Recognition Technician (DRT) programs in the Charlottesville, Henrico County, and Virginia Beach Police Departments and in the Virginia Department of State Police. The DRTs are officers who are specially trained to detect symptoms of impaired driving and to classify the type or types of drugs a suspect may have used. Between the DRTs and the other police officers across the Commonwealth, more than an average of 50 DUID blood samples per month were sent to the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services for analysis between April and November 1988. Evidence of marijuana and PCP use were found in almost half of the blood samples, and cocaine was found in 9.2 percent of the samples. In only 7.1 percent of the cases, neither drugs nor alcohol was detected. A major problem facing the program is that the average time between the receipt of a blood sample by Consolidated Laboratory Services and the completion of its analysis is approximately 50 days. In order to reduce turnaround time, the lab has hired additional personnel and purchased additional equipment; however, in order to prevent the dismissal of a case, it is recommended that officers set trial dates 90 days from the date of arrest to ensure that the laboratory will have sufficient time to complete the analysis.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


Other Authors

Jack D. Jernigan

Last updated: December 28, 2023

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