Montana News

Dec 14, 2010 7:42 PM by Melissa Anderson (Helena)

"Driving under the influence" includes drugs

We often hear about the problem of drinking and driving in Montana - but there are other substances that fall under the umbrella of "driving under the influence" laws. The News Station's Melissa Anderson reports the issue isn't just limited to alcohol.

Helena Police Department detective Randy Ranalli noted, "I think we're just all so stuck on drinking and driving that we forget about the drugging and driving. It's very prominent and I think we need to get more officers trained to know what to look for."

Driving under the influence in Montana doesn't just mean alcohol - it includes prescription drugs and other illegal substances, as well as medical marijuana. Authorities warn that you should never get behind the wheel of a car if you're under the influence, and that if you do and are caught, you could be prosecuted.

"And that's when my position or other drug recognition experts would come in and do the 12-step evaluation process on the arrestee," said Ranalli, who is also trained as a drug recognition expert.

Sobriety tests are conducted on suspected drugged drivers. However, unlike alcohol, smell isn't always a tell-tale sign, so officers are trained to look for other less obvious signs.

Ranalli says he looks for, among other things, vertical gaze nystagmus, eyelid tremors, and body tremors; all are possible indicators of different kinds of drug use.

There are seven categories of drugs that drug recognition experts look for when trying to narrow down what type of drug a person might be on. Each drug affects the eyes differently. Many times the tests are done in complete darkness.

Ranalli said, "I'm looking to see what his pupil size is in near-total darkness, compared to what the average size would be."

Ranalli reminds medical marijuana users and those who take prescription drugs, "It's still against the law to drive while impaired with drugs or alcohol...you will be arrested and prosecuted."

Montana DUI penalties can include fines, jail time, Substance abuse treatment programs, license suspension and revocation, and even ignition interlock devices.

Ranalli says people who drive drugged are just as illegal as those driving drunk.

Ranalli also cautions that medical marijuana cards won't exempt people from DUI prosecution.

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