After nearly 35 years working in traffic services for the RCMP, Sgt. Dave Savoy has seen first-hand the devastation that can be caused by impaired driving.
As the longest-serving drug recognition expert with the RCMP in all of Canada – having first trained in 1999 – Savoy is now lending his decades of expertise to the 100 Mile House and Williams Lake detachments.
Savoy said there have been no shortage of investigations to keep him busy in the specialized field since arriving in the South Cariboo in October 2020.
“In the first three months I was here in 2020, I assisted with five drug impaired driving investigations,” Savoy told the Free Press late last month. “So far in 2021, there have been 18 drug impairment investigations here in 100 Mile. There are much larger communities that don’t have even a fraction of that.”
Investigations into drug impairment start the same way as those for alcohol, Savoy said, with either a call into the detachment reporting suspicious driving behaviour or a patrol officer spotting something out of the ordinary.
“This could be erratic driving, or someone stopped for an extended period of time,” Savoy explained.
The officer would then pull over and interact with the driver, and utilize training officers undertake to know the signs of possible impairment.
“If there’s no odour of alcohol or the person denies taking alcohol, the officer can then demand a mandatory approved screening device be utilized,” Savoy said.
The device, commonly known as a breathalyzer, can detect blood-alcohol content. However if the driver is impaired by drugs and not alcohol, the device will read a zero, Savoy said.
At that point, knowing that “something’s not quite right,” despite the negative roadside screening device results, Savoy said the officer would then have the authority to move onto a standardized field sobriety test.
This consists of three tests used to determine impairment, including the horizontal gaze examination, the walk-and-turn and the one-leg stand test.
“The person will either perform well or perform poorly,” Savoy said. “Once they’ve performed poorly, they’ll be arrested, chartered and read what’s called a Drug Recognition Evaluation Demand.”
The person would then be taken to a secure location for further testing and examination – generally the RCMP detachment – where a 12-step process is undertaken to determine the classification of drug impairment.
Included in this process are pulse checks, blood pressure and temperature measuring, darkroom pupil exams, checking for injection sites and an interview of the suspect.
There are seven different classifications of drugs that officers can determine through the process, Savoy said. Those include central nervous system depressants, inhalants, dissociative anesthetics (such as PCP or ketamine), cannabis, central nervous stimulant, hallucinogen or narcotic analgesics (opioids such as heroin or fentanyl).
In the South Cariboo, Savoy said the three main classifications he and other drug recognition experts encounter are cannabis, stimulants and narcotic analgesics.
Once the category of drug is determined by the classification process, a bodily fluid sample is obtained under section 320.28 of the Criminal Code. Savoy said 99 per cent of the time it is a urine sample obtained and sent for forensic analysis, although it could be a blood sample when necessary.
“Once it’s analyzed, the Criminal Code states that once the drug recognition expert’s opinion is validated by a toxicology sample, that person is deemed to be impaired by that category of drug,” Savoy explained.
A 90-day driving prohibition would then be served through the ministerial process, along with possible criminal charges as determined by the Crown.
Savoy said he is glad to be sharing his expertise as a drug recognition expert with officers in the South Cariboo and hopes it has a positive impact on community safety.
“It’s been a big part of my focus throughout my career,” he said. “I’ve seen the destruction and devastation caused by impaired driving accidents, so if I can help prevent that, I’m glad to be doing so.”