GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The state is cracking down on drunk and high drivers.
Starting Thursday and lasting through Labor Day weekend, police agencies across Michigan will put more officers out on the roads to watch out for impaired drivers. The campaign, called “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” provides police departments federal traffic safety funds to pay for officers’ overtime.
Earlier this year, Grand Rapids saw multiple crashes caused by wrong-way drivers on US-131, taking the lives of innocent people. The majority of those were caused by impaired drivers, Michigan State Police Lieutenant Michelle Robinson said.
Last year, 40% of deaths on Michigan roads involved alcohol or drugs, according to the MSP Criminal Justice Information Center. Alcohol was a part of 9,331 crashes that took 322 lives. Drugs were a factor in 2,452 crashes, resulting in 249 lives lost.
“Often times individuals don’t realize that they’re taking the chance on not only their lives but the lives of innocent individuals that are out on the roadway,” Robinson said. “It isn’t worth the gamble of putting your life or someone else’s life in danger based off the decisions you’re making.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office has arrested 280 drivers for drunk or drugged driving so far this year. That’s on pace to match last year’s total.
“There’s not a week that goes by where we don’t have a crash that has potentially alcohol related as being a factor to it or a drunk driving arrest that takes place,” Brunner said.
Though it’s illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher, the state said officers can arrest drivers at any level if police believe they are impaired. Robinson said if you’re unsure whether you’re good to drive, the decision is easy.
“Often times someone may say, ‘Hey, I’m OK to drive,’” Robinson said. “Or they may question, ‘Am I OK to drive?’ If you have to question, ‘Am I OK to drive?’ (then) the answer is no.”
If you see someone driving recklessly, police say you can help save lives too.
“If they see someone that is swerving in their lane or they believe that someone may be under the influence, if they see something, say something,” Robinson said. “Call 911.”
PATROL DEPUTIES SEEK PROOF OF IMPAIRMENT
Law enforcement has several tools at its disposal to watch for drivers high on drugs. Whether a driver is drunk or high, deputies stop them in the first place for the same reasons.
“We have to show impairment,” Brunner said. “We have to find poor driving. So you were speeding, you were crossing over the center lines, not stopping at a stop sign, a red light. We make the traffic stop based upon that.”
If deputies smell intoxicants or marijuana during the stop, that leads to more questions. They do the same roadside sobriety test for alcohol and drugs.
“We look at divided attention tests very often,” Brunner explained. “When you’re intoxicated, when you’re impaired, it’s hard to do more than one thing. So that’s why people are counting and then they’re asked to focus on something else at the same time.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office has staff trained in ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement), a 16-hour class that teaches them other clues to check for beyond the normal roadside test. According to the state of Michigan’s website, the program helps officers “identify and document a driver impaired by alcohol, drugs, and/or alcohol drug combinations.”
“Looking at breathing, blood pressure, asking certain questions, looking at the behavior of the eyes,” Brunner said about the program. “We do have specialists that work on our team to come in and help to bring these cases to fruition as well.”
Brunner said a blood test is done to check for drugs. They’ve recently seen drivers high on harder drugs.
“Just recently, we had someone who was impaired and was arrested,” Brunner said. “The blood tests came back with fentanyl. We had someone who was impaired and driving under the influence of fentanyl.”
Although they do test for marijuana usage, with that drug deputies focus more on the behavior of the driver and signs of impairment. THC can remain in the body for weeks, affecting the result of a blood test.
“We just have to show a traffic violation, some impaired driving and then we take them to a chemical test,” Brunner said. “That’s enough to bring that case to court and have someone charged.”
Brunner, a former road patrol deputy, has seen first-hand how impaired driving has destroyed lives.
“If I could communicate anything it would be the significant impact that these alcohol and drug-related driving issues have on people’s families, themselves and other people’s families,” Brunner said.
The first fatal traffic crash Brunner responded to is “forever seared” in his mind. He said it stays with him today.
“A fifth-offense drunk driver crossed the center line on Lincoln Lake near 16 Mile, struck head-on a smaller vehicle,” he recalled. “A 14-year-old girl was instantly killed in the passenger seat and her dad was severely injured. So that dad lost his daughter that day due to someone else’s choice.”