VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — “I think a lot of people don’t realize how little alcohol it actually takes to start impairing your abilities to drive,” said Virginia Beach Police Officer Cheryl Bertram.

She works in the city’s Special Operations Traffic Safety Unit.

“I’ve always wanted to do the work with enforcing DUI’s, drunk driving, distracted driving, speeding,” explained Bertram. “Then one of our other duties, our main duty actually, is responding to serious and fatal crashes. So, when we are not working one of those, then we’re out trying to prevent them.”

Those deadly crashes are on the worst side of a very long spectrum of consequences when it comes to impaired driving. From court fees or license suspensions, to long-term injury or death, there is no good outcome to driving impaired.

If you’re lucky enough to survive a crash or avoid hurting anyone else, Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles says your first offense will cost you anywhere from $250 to $2,500, with up to a year of jail time.

A second offense lands you a minimum of $500 in fines with a minimum of 10 days behind bars. A third? At least $1,000 in fines and a minimum of 90 days of jail time.

On top of these standards: legal fees, breathalyzer use, license suspensions and civil suits also line up quickly.

“Most people that I interact with think that they were OK to be driving… and they were or well over the legal limit,” explained Officer Bertram. It takes blowing a .08% BAC to be considered over the legal limit.

Instead of “knowing your limit,” Bertram recommends not driving at all once you’re planning to consume any alcohol. As for when VBPD stops impaired drivers, she says it happens around the clock.

“DUI does not discriminate,” said Bertram. “We see them all hours of the day. Middle of the day, people on their way to pick up their kids from school after drinking all day. Everybody assumes that it’s going to be around 2 a.m. when the bars close and everybody is coming out of the resort area.”

These days, police in our area aren’t just stopping drunk drivers. They’re also working to stop and identify drivers who are high on any given substance.

With cannabis decriminalization in Virginia, there could be an increased use of the drug. Virginia Beach Police have added to their resources by putting four of their officers through drug recognition expert school.

“Virginia is on the come up with enforcing drug driving,” said Bertram. “We’ve put about, I’d say, 30 officers within the whole state through drug recognition expert school so that we are better equipped to deal with those that are driving under the influence of drugs. That can be marijuana, prescription drugs, and then, obviously, illegal narcotics.”

If an officer determines there’s probable cause to believe someone was driving under the influence of drugs, and their driving ability is affected, those same standardized field sobriety tests used for alcohol, apply to drug driving as well.

If the officer is seeing impairment on those tests, you’ll be taken down to the hospital for a blood draw. Similar to a breathalyzer, you would legally have to comply with the blood test. Both would be post arrest.

Then Bertram says you would be taken down to the jail.

AAA says consuming cannabis can affect your driving abilities in these ways:

  • Difficulty maintaining attention.
  • Slower reaction times.
  • Harder to stay in traffic lane.
  • Harder to judge distances.
  • Slower decision-making.
  • Reduced peripheral/side vision.
  • Reduced coordination.

After the sample, you can voluntarily submit to a drug influence evaluation with a drug recognition expert.

The 12 step process includes vital signs, pulse rates, pupil measurements, divided attention tests, and an interview. Then, the test administrator can form an opinion as to what substance they believe is impairing a person’s ability to drive.

Regardless so if the poison you’ve picked, a DUI conviction will loom over job interviews and paychecks for the rest of your life – if you’re lucky enough to live at all.

In the first quarter of 2021 alone, Virginia Beach Police report four deadly crashes in the city. Of those four, two were alcohol or drug-related.

“That’s that’s one of the biggest risks,” said Bertram. “Is that you could hurt somebody or hurt yourself.”

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