7Investigates: Drugged Driving

BOSTON (WHDH) - Everyone knows the limit when it comes to drunk driving: .08.

But for drugged driving, the issue is a bit hazier.

“If you feel different, you drive different,” said Jeff Larason, head of the state highway safety division.

There is no breathalyzer for marijuana.

Larason says blood and urine tests for the drug can be misleading.

“So you could have, for marijuana, a much higher level in your system, and not have the same level of impairment as somebody who has it lower,” he said.

So most police officers agree the best way to tell whether a driver is high behind the wheel is the Drug Recognition Expert, or, DRE program.

7News got an inside look at it last year with a deputy playing the role of a drugged driver.

Officers try to prove a driver is high on pot through a series of physical and mental tests.

“So we’ll look for what the pupil size is,” an officer said.

Officers look for things like abnormal eye movement.

“You go outside today. Turn your windshield wipers. It’s rainy. They’re nice and smooth. But if it’s a hot, dry day, what happens to your windshield wipers when you turn them on. They skip, and that’s, in a very basic way, what the eyes will look like,” an officer said.

And test the driver’s balance and sense of time.

“What I’d like you to do is tilt your head back slightly and close your eyes and estimate 30 seconds,” an officer said.

But only about 150 Massachusetts police officers are currently certified as DREs.

Peter Elikann is a member of a special commission on impaired driving and marijuana in Massachusetts, which will make recommendations to lawmakers by the end of this year.

He says the DRE program is underfunded and that it’s all too easy for defense attorneys like himself to get drugged driving cases thrown out in court, but it’s also the best officers have.

“The DRE is more effective than any other tool we have at the moment, but it’s not perfect, and it’s not foolproof,” Elikann said.

The DRE training itself is free. But many smaller police departments still can’t afford it because they have to pay overtime for two weeks to fill in for the officer who’s away, in training.

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