• Center for Problem oriented policing

previous page next page

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of drug-impaired driving. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.


In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the drug-impaired driving problem and should be consulted when gathering information about the problem and responding to it.

  • Schools and universities are particularly concerned with the safety of students and can often provide campus-based data and information and can help administer student surveys to assess the extent of the problem and to evaluate the effectiveness of responses. University students use substances at high rates, and therefore university faculty and staff can further assist in measuring use rates and educating this high-risk group.
  • Parents who help teach their children to drive and learn about drug and alcohol use are ideally positioned to assist police with getting students engaged in the problem, with asking them to participate in surveys and other research efforts and perhaps with soliciting ideas on how drug-impaired driving can be minimized.
  • Other drivers who are at risk for damage to their property, for injury or for death can advocate for police and legislative attention to drug-impaired driving and can help police by reporting suspicious drivers quickly.
  • Insurance companies that are interested in minimizing financial exposure and high costs and in establishing reasonable insurance rates based on perceived risks can help police by tracking offending rates among their customers, by exploring the impact of raising insurance rates among offenders on overall public safety and by providing information on future accidents among high-risk offenders (some of which may not involve the police but may come to the attention of the insurance companies).
  • Bar and restaurant owners may be in a position to intervene and contact police if drugs are being used in bars and restaurants—either drugs only or drugs in combination with alcohol. In an effort to prevent accidents, bartenders and servers can assist policing in reporting potential offenders as they leave a bar or a restaurant.
  • Drug treatment providers can help reduce overall drug use rates and reduce drug use among offenders specifically. These agencies often track the impact of their treatment programs in reducing recidivism among clients.
  • Driver's license centers can play an important role in restricting and revoking licenses and in recalling license plates of convicted offenders, but they must also serve as a primary resource of data on reoffending and overall public safety risk levels.
  • Motor vehicle clubs and associations can serve as likely targets for educational programs and can assist police by providing information on particularly dangerous roadways that might serve as roadblock settings.
  • Transportation businesses, such as taxi cab, limousine, and shuttle services, can assist police in measuring the prevalence of drug-impaired passengers over time, which might indicate whether any planned responses are effectively discouraging drug-impaired driving (and thereby encouraging other forms of transportation).
  • Traffic engineers can help identify particularly risky roads (near open-air drug markets, for example) that might be modified in an effort to disrupt drive-up-and-buy markets and limit easy in-and-out access to areas where drug-impaired driving is likely to occur.
  • Personal injury attorneys can publicize their lawsuits against offenders, which might then deter some drug users from driving while drug impaired.
  • Large employers with motorized fleets can collect internal data on traffic accidents that might help police to accurately estimate the magnitude of the problem of drug-impaired driving.
  • Emergency medical providers can assist police by helping to identify potential offenders, by assisting with drug testing those who cannot be field tested (perhaps because of their own injuries) and by performing confirmation tests if officers are unable to do so within a reasonable time.
  • Drug courts can develop systems to track offender compliance and reoffending rates among those who do and do not complete the drug court process.
  • Physicians who prescribe drugs can help police by confirming prescription status, perhaps as a condition of probation, among first-time offenders who may be at increased risk for future offending.
  • Advocacy groups that support medicalizing, decriminalizing or legalizing certain drugs, particularly marijuana, can assist by tracking the effectiveness of educational programs designed to deter drug-impaired driving.
  • Pharmaceutical companies can alert police and community leaders regarding the risks associated with specific drugs that are widely used among high-risk populations (including the elderly, for example).
  • Pharmacies and pharmacists can assist with investigations of offenders who may have been impaired because they used legal prescriptions.
  • Victim advocacy groups and public health agencies can assist in collecting victimization and injury data and in tracking emerging or ongoing trends. 

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your local problem of drug-impaired driving, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.


  • How many drug-impaired driving incidents occur locally each week, month or year (depending on your reporting processes)?
  • Does your jurisdiction have a valid method of measuring the number of drug-impaired driving incidents? If not, what will it take to develop such a system?
  • What proportion of police officers is trained to test for drug-impaired driving in the field, at the station or at some other location (e.g., a clinic or hospital)? Are law enforcement employees who are not police officers involved in the testing process, or could they assist?
  • Which drugs are you able to test for in the field or at other locations? What drugs that might be implicated in drug-impaired driving are you currently unable to test for in these locations?
  • What proportion of traffic crashes is associated with drug-impaired drivers? Is this proportion higher or lower than the proportion associated with alcohol-impaired driving?
  • What testing methods are used to test for drug-impaired driving, and are these methods valid, reliable and user-friendly? How do you know?
  • What is the estimated cost to the public for drug-impaired driving crashes, enforcement, testing, treatment, and so forth?


  • What proportion of traffic crash victims is tested for drug and alcohol impairment? What limitations exist that prevent higher or broader levels of testing—i.e., testing for more substances?
  • What is known about the demographic profile of the victims of drug-impaired drivers (e.g., gender, education, socioeconomic status, employment history, living arrangements)? How are these data collected? Are they used in any meaningful way to develop responses?
  • Are victims of drug-impaired driving crashes ever given an opportunity to confront the offender (e.g., a victim impact panel)? If so, is there any evidence of effectiveness?
  • What proportion of victims of drug-impaired driving crashes has a criminal record, or more specifically, evidence of past drug involvement?
  • Are there any specific laws or practices in place to provide restitution to the victim(s)?


  • What proportion of traffic crash offenders is tested for drug impairment? Is testing mandatory under certain conditions or discretionary (if so, under what conditions)? What limitations exist that prevent more frequent or broader levels of testing—i.e., those involving more substances?
  • What is known about the demographic profile of drug-impaired drivers (e.g., gender, education, socioeconomic status, employment history, living arrangements)? How are these data collected? Are they used in any meaningful way to develop responses?
  • What proportion of drug-impaired drivers consists of repeat offenders (e.g., they have previously been arrested for similar charges or for other drug-related charges)?
  • What is the driving history of those arrested for drug-impaired driving, and how does it compare with that of the average driver or with that of drunk drivers?
  • What is the criminal history of those arrested for drug-impaired driving? Are most of them involved in other forms of crime or in persistent drug use? If so, would focusing attention and resources on those types of crimes help reduce drug-impaired driving?


  • What times of day, days of the week, weeks of the month, or months of the year have the highest levels of impaired-driving rates? What are some possible explanations for these patterns?
  • What locations (e.g., specific streets, communities and areas near stadiums, bars and open-air drug markets) are at increased risk for drug-impaired driving incidents? Are these locations close to illicit drug markets or to pharmacies?
  • Are open-air, drive-by-and-purchase drug markets operational in parts of your community or jurisdiction? How common is it for driving buyers to use the drugs they purchase before resuming driving?

Current Responses

  • How many arrests and convictions for drug-impaired driving occur annually? Has this number increased or decreased over the past decade?
  • What are the legal consequences for drivers who refuse to submit to a drug test, either during a traffic stop or following a vehicle crash, when impairment is suspected? What proportion of suspected drivers refuses? Is the consequence for refusal swift, certain and severe?
  • What proportion of drug-impaired drivers continues to drive with suspended or revoked licenses? For what proportion does suspending or revoking their license reduce recidivism?
  • Are arrested or suspected drug offenders routinely educated about the risks and consequences of drug-impaired driving?
  • Does your jurisdiction have mandatory drug-impaired driving education courses within the school system, either as part of driver education or within local universities or other settings?
  • Is drug treatment mandatory for drug-impaired driver offenders?
  • Is some form of punishment mandatory? Does the specific response vary, depending on the type of drug, the level of intoxication or the number of offenses? Is punishment swift, certain and severe?
  • Do state or local laws ensure that drug-impaired drivers have mandatory increases in insurance rates following an arrest or conviction? If not, has the insurance industry discussed this strategy with police or with legislators?
  • Can drug-impaired drivers, especially repeat offenders, lose their vehicles permanently as one of the consequences of driving while drug impaired? Does the impoundment process occur quickly?
  • Can drug-impaired drivers be diverted into alternative venues (either within or outside the criminal justice system) by police officers or by the court system (or by both)?
  • What discretion exists for police officers who respond to potential drug-impaired driving situations?
  • Does your police department have a specialized unit that handles drug-impaired driving situations, or are some of your police officers specifically trained to handle these cases? 

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results.

Ideally, you should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether your responses have been effective. You should take all measures in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems and Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 10, Analyzing Crime Displacement and Diffusion.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to drug-impaired driving. Process measures demonstrate the extent to which the responses were properly implemented. Outcome measures demonstrate the extent to which the responses reduced the level or severity of the problem.

Process Measures

  • More efficient processing times for drug-impaired driving scenes, testing and responses
  • Improvements in officer training and certification in recognizing and responding to drug-impaired driving situations and in testing for a variety of drugs, using standardized protocols
  • Increased proportion of point-of-contact testing (field testing) that is later verified
  • Demonstrated improvements in laboratory and field-testing protocols
  • Wider adoption and implementation of sobriety checkpoints that focus on drug impairment in addition to alcohol impairment
  • Improvements in physician and pharmacist awareness training
  • Disruption of drive-up-and-buy markets as sources of drug-impaired driving incidents
  • Increased education outreach (at multiple critical points) among at-risk populations (such as high school and college students, those who regularly use impairing prescription medications, the elderly, known drug users, and prior drug-impaired driving offenders)
  • Increased number of forfeited vehicles from convicted drug-impaired drivers
  • Increased number of confiscated license plates from convicted drug-impaired drivers
  • Increased prosecutions of offenders
  • Reduced amount of time for punishing offenders and increased certainty of punishment.

Outcome Measures

  • Reduced number of crashes, injuries and fatalities that involve drug-impaired drivers, measured as a proportion of all traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities
  • Reduced degree of injury to persons and property from drug-impaired driving crashes
  • Reduced number of repeat offenders and of victims involved in drug-impaired driving incidents
  • Improved successful outcomes following treatment of offenders (e.g., reductions in test failures, successful integration into the community and lower recidivism rates). 
previous page next page