Texas ranks first in the nation, but it’s nothing to brag about.
The state is No. 1 in alcohol-related traffic deaths — 1,657 in 2000. Alcohol is a factor in half of all highway deaths in Texas.
But if TEEX has its way, these statistics are going to change.
Over the past three years, TEEX has trained 10,000 law enforcement officers to detect drivers under the influence of alcohol by using a scientifically validated testing procedure called the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST). The test was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“Training officers in SFST procedures can and does make a difference,” says Troy Walden of TEEX Law Enforcement and Security Training, who serves as the State Coordinator for Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. “We really believe that by training officers to effectively conduct this test, they will save lives because they are getting drunk drivers off the road.”
When used by a trained officer, the test has been shown to be more than 92 percent accurate at detecting drivers whose blood alcohol concentration is higher than the Texas legal limit of .08 percent. The primary components of the test are the walk-and-turn, one-leg stand, and an eye-tracking test called “horizontal gaze nystagmus.” Officers use the test results to develop probable cause for arrest and as evidence in court.
TEEX is the only agency in Texas that is listed in case law as a provider of SFST training, Walden says. Last year alone, TEEX trained nearly 3,500 police officers in Texas to detect drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“One of the advantages of the SFST training is that officers can pinpoint borderline drunks who think they can still operate the vehicle safely,” Walden says. “The class also includes a live alcohol workshop. The officers can see the SFST clues, count them and then compare their findings to actual blood alcohol levels.”
“The Texas SFST program is one of the best in the United States,” says Kenneth Copeland, regional programs manager of NHTSA Region VI. “One of the few ways to improve it would be for the state to require all law enforcement officers to have the training.
“Because drunk driving kills so many people in the U.S. and Texas, we must do everything we can to reduce those deaths and injuries,” Copeland says. “The SFST gives law enforcement another tool to determine if someone has been drinking and the ability to take them off the road before someone gets hurt.”
NHTSA and the Texas Department of Transportation fund the SFST training for Texas peace officers, through a grant to TEEX of more than $525,000 per year. But the training is voluntary and many officers, especially from smaller communities, have not been trained, Walden says.
The TEEX program has tried to reach out to more communities by setting up a network of SFST instructors across the state.
“One of the things that has made this training so successful is that we have adjunct instructors all over the state,” Walden says. “We’ve trained 492 SFST instructors from around the state.”
In addition, TEEX instructors provide assistance to prosecuting attorneys, and serve as adjunct faculty for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.
“We take our role in the battle against drunk driving very seriously,” Walden says.