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Drug-Impaired Driving: NIJ-Sponsored Panel Points to Priority Needs for Addressing Complex Enforcement Challenges

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2021

This article examines better methods of proving and preventing drug impairment on the road, a significant criminal justice system challenge as more States legalize marijuana.


Drug-impaired driving is risky behavior. The fact that many Americans fail to recognize that risk makes it all the more dangerous — especially when they decide to get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs.

Making matters worse is the daunting challenge facing those in the criminal justice system tasked with detecting and prosecuting drivers impaired by drugs other than alcohol.

For the criminal justice system, developing effective policies, practices, and standards to fight drug-impaired driving means first building a firm foundation of priority research needs for law enforcement, forensic toxicology, prosecuting agencies, and practitioners.

Toward that end, the National Institute of Justice held a workshop in which expert law enforcement officers, toxicologists, and prosecution officials identified and ranked top needs for relevant research. Researchers from the RAND Corporation (RAND) and RTI International (RTI) facilitated the workshop, part of the NIJ-sponsored Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative.

Select examples of high-priority justice system needs identified by the expert panel include:

For law enforcement:

  • For each agency, identifying the right number of officers with specialized training in identifying drug impairment.
  • Developing more observational tests for the standard field sobriety battery.
  • Developing training to boost the confidence of law enforcement officers called to testify in drug cases.

For forensic toxicologists:

  • Identifying gaps in funding and other resources for forensic toxicology labs to meet capability requirements and demand.
  • Establishing training for toxicologists on interpreting test results in driving under the influence of drugs cases.

For prosecutors:

  • Providing more access to training, given that drug-impairment cases are among the most technical and difficult to litigate.
  • Identifying best practices for dealing with drivers’ refusal of impairment tests.

Date Published: April 1, 2021