New Technology Provides Better “INSITE” for Officers into Impaired Driving

Drunk Driving

Impaired Driving Initiatives will be testing a virtual reality program to train officers to conduct better roadside tests in drunk driving cases.

The Impaired Driving Initiatives (IDI) Program at Sam Houston State University received a $253,607 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to use new technology to enhance training for officers in administering field sobriety tests.

Working with the University of Texas at Dallas and EyeT Plus, IDI will incorporate a virtual reality program into a course that teaches officers to recognize signs of drunk and drugged driving on the road. This computerized program simulates an eye-tracking test to check for impairment and is capable of representing a broad range of alcohol impairments, ranging from 0 to .15 or higher, as well as eye conditions, such as redness, wetness, pupil size and dissimilarities, and the angle of eye movement.

“I think it enhances and expands Sam Houston’s role in trying to add ways to identify impaired driving and make the roads in Texas safer,” said Cecil Marquart, director of IDI. “It is another training initiative that SHSU hopes to expand on in the area of impaired driving.”

In 2015, there were 3,531 motor vehicle fatalities in Texas, and drunk driving caused 960 of those deaths. Standardized roadside sobriety tests help to identify impaired drivers in the field, and the eye movement test is the most researched and most accurate way to measure blood alcohol levels. However, many officers lack confidence in their ability to perform the test, which leads them to release about one-third of drivers who should have been arrested, according to one study.

To help build proficiency in that test, IDI will introduce an innovative technology, called the Individual Nystagmus Simulated Training Experience (INSITE). The computer-based program provides a virtual reality subject named Brian, who can be administered an eye test by the officer by moving an object, such as a pen or a finger, 12-15 inches from the eyes. The program measures nystagmus, which is an involuntary and rapid eye movement, which becomes more prominent with the increase of blood alcohol levels. The program can provide feedback to an individual officer on the performance of the test as well as provide overall data on the success of training efforts.

Before this system was introduced, officers tested their proficiency on one another, including a test on officers who were provided alcohol.

INSITE will be used and evaluated on officers attending the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) program. ARIDE is an intermediate training between the standard field sobriety test and Drug Recognition Experts (DRE), who are trained to identify drugs involved in impaired driving cases. The program will target 10 Texas counties that account for one-third of all alcohol-related crashes and injuries in the states, including Bell, Bexar, Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ector, Grayson, McLennan, Midland and Tarrant.

Although alcohol is responsible for the most injuries and fatalities on Texas roads, Brian also may be programmed in the future to detect changes in eye movement patterns caused by other drugs, such as cannabis, or analgesic narcotics, like opioids.

The INSITE program was developed by the University of Texas Dallas Center for Modeling and Simulation/Virtual Humans and Synthetic Societies Lab and was validated by Drug Recognition Experts from the region as well as the Oklahoma Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training. The new technology is expected to be introduced into ARIDE classes in late 2017 or early 2018.

This is the latest grant awarded to the IDI programs. In addition to ARIDE and DRE, the Impaired Driving Initiatives received funds to provide programs for probation and parole officers in the state as well as employees in secondary schools in Texas. All of their programs are designed to save lives, prevent traffic injuries, and reduce traffic-related health care and other economic costs.

Member of The Texas State University System