Tag Archives: roadside testing

Police from a dozen agencies will use handheld devices to test drivers’ saliva for use of several drugs under a pilot program in five Michigan counties.

Roadside drug tests to check for marijuana, cocaine, opiates and more

A Michigan State Police Trooper makes a traffic stop. Police in Michigan will begin testing drivers' saliva for the presence of drugs during a pilot program in five counties that begins Nov. 8.

By Brad Devereaux

bdeverea@mlive.com

Police from a dozen agencies will use handheld devices to test drivers’ saliva for use of several drugs under a pilot program in five Michigan counties.

The Michigan State Police announced Thursday, Nov. 2, it will carry out a one-year roadside drug testing pilot program in Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties. It will begin Wednesday, Nov. 8.

The Alere DDS2 oral fluid test instrument will be used to measure for the presence of drugs in drivers’ saliva, Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said. The device will record results based on threshold limits set by the manufacturer and test for six substances: amphetamine, benzodiazepines, marijuana/cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates.

Banner said it should be noted that threshold levels for saliva are different than that of blood.

Drug Recognition Experts (DREs), officers with advanced training in the assessment of alcohol and drug impairment, will carry the devices, MSP said. DREs only will administer an oral fluid test under the pilot program, Banner said.

The drug test will take place roadside, like alcohol preliminary breath test (PBT).

Refusing the oral fluid swab test, a preliminary test, will result in a civil infraction, just like an alcohol PBT, Banner said.

Kent, Washtenaw among 5 counties selected for roadside drug testing

Kent, Washtenaw among 5 counties selected for roadside drug testing

The pilot program will begin next week on Nov. 8, MSP said.

DREs will continue to take blood draws as part of standard procedure in addition to saliva tests, Banner said.

“Drug Recognition Experts will continue to follow the same policies and procedures for investigating a person they believe to be operating a vehicle while impaired on a controlled substance. The only difference in the pilot counties will be if the DRE determines a motorist is impaired on drugs, they will ask the person to submit to an oral fluid test,” Banner said.

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Oakland-Based Startup Develops Marijuana ‘Breathalyzer’ to Sell to Police Departments

pot leaf

When the governor of Vermont vetoed a marijuana legalization bill this week, he said he was especially worried about stoned driving. He wants to hear more about an “impairment testing mechanism” to detect it.

The problem is that no such mechanism exists. There is no Breathalyzer for pot.

Urine and hair tests can detect whether a person has used marijuana or other drugs within the last few days or weeks, but they can’t tell when a person is stoned at any one moment.

A couple of startups are racing to change that.

Oakland-based Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies of Vancouver, British Columbia, are developing small handheld devices with tubes that people can blow into, just like the roadside tests that detect drunken drivers.

Hound Labs announced on Tuesday that it has raised $8.1 million from the venture capital company Benchmark, which funded Uber and Tinder, and has started clinical trials in conjunction with the University of California, San Francisco.

The Hound device is designed to detect both marijuana and alcohol in human breath. Dr. Michael Lynn, the CEO, said his company is planning to sell it by the end of the year.

“We tested on so many people now that we’re quite confident,” he told CNNMoney.

He said his company’s device will cost $600 to $800 and will be sold to police departments — and employers, too. In the eight states where recreational pot is legal, companies might not care whether their workers smoked weed the night before, but would definitely care if they are driving trucks or school buses while stoned.

Lynn, an emergency room doctor, said the device uses chemistry to pick up THC molecules in the breath, which are detectable for about two hours.

In Canada, which is moving to legalize recreational marijuana next year, Cannabix Technologies is working on a similar device to detect THC molecules.

Kal Malhi, the company president, hopes to start selling it in about a year and half, for $1,000 to $1,500. Testing began in March.

“We know it works,” said Dr. Bruce Goldberger, a forensic toxicologist and science adviser to the company.

Unlike an alcohol Breathalyzer, which estimates the amount of alcohol in the blood to determine a degree of drunkenness, both pot devices simply give a yes or no on the presence of THC.

Police don’t have a roadside drug testing tool like this. Goldberger said police in other countries sometimes use saliva swabs that can detect drugs, but those haven’t caught on in the United States.

Bob Griffiths, a retired officer and the director of police standards and training for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, said saliva testing technology “has not proven reliable.” This is why it was never adopted in Alaska, where recreational marijuana sales became legal in October.

Griffiths said Alaska police currently conduct field sobriety tests that he described as “fairly rudimentary,” and that the marijuana Breathalyzer “shows promise.” But it still has to be tested by the police, and approved by the courts for use as evidence.

He said the technology is important because it could detect drug impairment in drivers who are not drunk.

“I’ve arrested people who had zero-zero alcohol but they could barely stand up,” he said. “I would say that recreational marijuana, whether legal or not, has always been a problem with impairment with drivers in Alaska.”

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Kentucky considering roadside driver drug tests

Mike Wynn, @MikeWynn_CJ 11:54 p.m. EDT September 16, 2015

DSC_0161

Above:  Schwendau, assistant director of Highway Safety Programs.

Right now, officials are only testing the kits for accuracy and reliability, administering them to volunteers after an arrest is complete. If they prove reliable, lawmakers say they will consider legislation next year to expand their use as a common part of police work.

Schwendau says police might soon use the swab kits in the same way they rely on roadside breath tests to identify drunken drivers, adding one more step to “remove that question of doubt” during a traffic stop.

Defense attorneys are more skeptical, warning that the tests could lead to invasive searches or give officers false pretense for arrests.

“They are chipping away at our rights — I just don’t know how else to put it,” said Larry “The DUI Guy” Forman, an attorney in Louisville who specializes in impaired driving cases.

Damon Preston, deputy public advocate at the Department of Public Advocacy, cautions that the courts still need to determine the reliability of the kits and what circumstances warrant their use in the field.

“The ease or simplicity of a sobriety test should never infringe upon the rights of persons to be free from unwarranted or invasive searches of their bodies,” he said.

The side of safety

The swabs don’t show a person’s level of impairment — only that drugs are present in their system. Supporters say Kentucky law would not allow them as evidence in court, and to build a case, police would still rely on the same process they currently use in investigations.

That typically involves a field sobriety test followed by an evaluation from a drug recognition expert, who is trained to monitor the suspect’s behavior and physical condition to determine their level of intoxication. Police also collect blood samples, which are much more conclusive.

Schwendau said the roadside tests could help police narrow down which drugs to test for in a blood sample. He said the kits already have proved successful in other states, particularity in California where authorities have upped the ante with digital devices precise enough to provide court evidence. That has saved the state money in the long run because more suspects are pleading out cases, he said.

On his website, Forman advises people to refuse field sobriety tests and breathalyzers to improve their chances of a successful defense in court. If swabs become commonplace in Kentucky, Forman says, drivers should refuse them as well.

One problem, he argues, could occur when people use drugs earlier in the day but are pulled over after the effects have worn off. He cited concerns that the swab could still test positive even though a driver is no longer under the influence.

Forman also questions how variations in temperature or allowing kits to sit in a hot police car for long periods might affect the results.

“It just gets really, really hairy, really fast,” he said.

But Schwendau points out that drivers who are not impaired will be vindicated in later tests. He also worries that while most people know it’s wrong to get behind the wheel drunk, many still think it’s OK to take an extra prescription pill before driving.

“We are doing it to save lives and get risks off the road,” he said. For police, “the best decision I think always is to err on the side of safety.”

Deadly risks

According to Kentucky State Police, authorities suspected that drugs were a factor in nearly 1,600 traffic collisions across the state last year, resulting in 939 injuries and 214 deaths.

In some areas struggling with epidemic drug abuse, high drivers are more common than drunken drivers, according to Van Ingram, head of the Office of Drug Control Policy. A lot of areas are having problems with drivers who are intoxicated on both drugs and alcohol, he said.

House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said lawmakers will want to look at the highway safety office’s pilot project before putting forth any legislation. Still, he reasons that the swabs also could help exclude drivers who might otherwise fall suspect because they swerved accidentally.

Officials have distributed 100 kits for the pilot tests, which they hope to wrap up in October.

Schwendau said he will bring the results to a state task force on impaired driving along with the Governor’s Executive Committee on Highway Safety.

Even if the kits are approved and adopted, police face a cost of $7 per unit.

Schwendau said local communities would have to choose whether to use them since the kits are too expensive for the state to provide. But departments could apply for federal grants, he said.

“It’s not our place to force it on them,” Schwendau said. “We just want to offer them a better tool.”

Reporter Mike Wynn can be reached at (502) 875-5136. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeWynn_CJ.

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