Texas Schools Get Lessons on Impaired Driving

Police stop teen impaired by drugs

As teen death and injuries continue to rise from alcohol and drug related crashes, Sam Houston State University, Impaired Driving Initiatives Program, is addressing the statewide issue by delivering a national curriculum to teachers, counselors, nurses and coaches.

The Drug Impairment Training for Education Professionals (DITEP) program is funded through a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation.

"It's a prevention tool," said Cecil Marquart, director of the Impaired Driving Initiatives Programs.

The primary goal of the DITEP program is to enable education professionals to identify chemically-impaired individuals and types of drugs for the purpose of ensuring a safe learning environment.

"Education personnel might think their students are tired when they are going to sleep in class, but they could be impaired on drugs," Marquart added. "Most people think that most impaired driving takes place at night, and that isn’t true."

The ability to recognize drug use among students or in the general public will help to keep impaired drivers off the road and serve as an intervention tool to reduce future crashes caused by driving under the influence. The program is aimed at reducing the underage use of drugs and alcohol, which leads to more traffic fatalities.

The eight-hour class is offered free to local school districts with a minimum of 24 participants. Some districts even form a consortium to host the event. The program focus mainly on employees who interact with students in grades seven through 12, although some programs have included intermediate school employees.

For the last three years, the program has helped train about 1,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, custodians, superintendents, and even school board members. For the first time this year, the seven drug category section was provided to Driver Education Instructors and school bus drivers.

The program, which is often held as in-service training, describes the involvement of drugs in schools and society. While many efforts focus on the use of illegal drugs, the biggest problem among students these days is with prescription drugs, which are often taken from family medicine cabinets or purchased on the Internet, Marquart said.

According to a report published in June 2010 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of U.S. high school students have taken prescriptions drugs without consulting a doctor, including one in four high school seniors.

While most school districts in Texas have their own drug and alcohol policy, oftentimes located on the school’s web site, training encourages school personnel to work through the specifics of their policies. However, they are reminded this is an intervention that is successful through a local team approach.

The DITEP program focuses on a few key areas, including:

  • The Texas Education Code, Texas Penal Code, and the importance of an effective school policy as they relate to drug and/or alcohol use and possession.
  • The seven drug categories and recognizing the outward signs and symptoms of impairment associated with each.
  • The key factors that should be considered when discussing substance abuse with a parent.
  • Proper documentation of one’s observations.

During the 2010 fiscal year, the trainings were held regionally and among the areas covered were Abilene, Amarillo, Cedar Hill, Fort Worth, Huntsville, Kilgore, Lubbock, North Forest ISD, Los Fresnos ISD, Pharr, Richardson, Round Rock, San Perlita ISD, and Waco. Instructors for this program must be endorsed by the Drug Evaluation Classification (DEC) Program State Coordinator for their state.

In addition to the educator training, the Impaired Driving Initiatives Program also provides two national highway traffic safety administration programs each focusing on the apprehension of impaired drivers.

One program certifies law enforcement officers as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) through a three-phase training curriculum that includes Drug Recognition Pre-School, Drug Recognition Expert School, and Drug Recognition Field Certification. Once trained and certified, these experts become highly effective officers skilled in the detection and identification of a person impaired or affected by alcohol and/or other drugs.

The Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement training (ARIDE) bridges the gap between the standard field sobriety test and drug recognition experts. The courses trains law enforcement officers to observe, identify, and articulate the signs of impairment related to drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both in order to reduce the number of impaired driving incidents, traffic fatalities, and serious injuries.

Member of The Texas State University System