Testing for impairment of drivers behind the wheel

Published 9:00 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2022

New Albert Lea police officers, along with other officers from the region, are getting hands-on training this week in the city to help them identify impaired drivers while out on the road. 

On Monday and Tuesday at the Moose Lodge in Albert Lea, the officers took part in what is called a controlled drinking lab, where volunteers under supervision agree to drink alcoholic beverages and then undergo standardized field sobriety tests by the officers in training to see how alcohol impairment affects people, said Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Eric Bormann.

Bormann said all of the volunteers were local residents. 

The officers learned how to conduct three main tests standardized through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, including:

• The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, in which the officer asks the person to follow his or her finger with their eyes. The officer looks for involuntary jerking movements that identify intoxication.

• The Walk and Turn Test, which tests a person’s balance and ability to follow directions and asks for the person to take a certain number of heel-to-toe steps along a straight line. 

• The One Leg Stand Test requires a person to stand on one leg for a certain amount of time and also tests balance and coordination. 

At the end of the testing, they conduct a preliminary breath test to determine blood alcohol levels. 

Bormann said if people exhibit cues of intoxication during the testing but blow a zero on the breath test, there could be impairment through drugs or prescription medication. Those types of impairment have to be tested through a blood draw. 

Bormann said participants in the training were scheduled to learn more about drug impairment in the Wednesday session, which was all taught in a classroom setting. 

There were officers from Albert Lea, Caledonia, Medina, Houston County and Carver County in the training this week. 

Bormann noted this was the first time Albert Lea had done the training at the Moose Lodge and the first time in several years for the training to be in the city. 

The Moose Lodge donated the alcohol and use of the facility.