Most drivers have never heard of a DAX evidence recorder, but the Austin Police Department is looking at buying the devices to help with cases of driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
When Austin police pull over suspected impaired drivers, officers conduct a field sobriety test. The exam includes an eye portion, where officers look for nystagmus, or involuntary twitching of the eyes; an indication of alcohol consumption.
Officers write down their observations and recall the details during trial. When they show video of the test, the eye portion is not that of the accused impaired driver, but a general example of what impaired eyes look like.
That’s where the DAX evidence recorder comes in. It records the actual eye test given to a driver in the field and can be played back for a jury. The inventor of the device, Dick Studdard, put it his way, “A picture is worth a thousand words, well, what’s a video worth?”
Houston Police, the New York Police Department, and the California Highway Patrol all use the DAX evidence recorders. Austin may follow those cities’ lead as it deals with an increase in the number of cases of drivers under the influence of drugs.
"Drug cases, it's a lot different animal than alcohol is," said Jennings. “A lot of it too is you have be able to explain things a little bit better.”
The uptick in driving while under the influence of drugs has also produced an increase in calls for drug recognition experts, or DRE’s. They are called to the scene of DWI’s after officers conduct a field sobriety test and suspect something other than alcohol causing impairment.
The number of DRE evaluations in Austin has skyrocketed in recent years from 11 in 2010 to 368 in 2015. In 2016, there have already been more than 90 DRE evaluations.
Police hope the DAX evidence recorder would give them an extra piece of evidence to prove impairment as they continue to battle problems with drivers under the influence.