In an effort to better test drivers suspected of operating a vehicle under the influence of illicit substances, police from 12 Michigan agencies will experiment using handheld devices that will test drivers’ saliva for the use of several drugs.
A New Initiative
The Michigan State Police will begin a one-year pilot program for roadside drug testing starting on Wednesday, November 8. Five Michigan counties will participate in the program—Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair and Washtenaw.
The device, titled the Alere DDS2 oral fluid test instrument, will test for six substances—amphetamine, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates.
The instrument will record results dependent on threshold limits set by the manufacturer. According to Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner, thresholds for saliva differ from traditional blood tests.
Under the pilot program, roadside tests will be carried out by Drug Recognition Experts (DREs), officers with advanced training in assessing alcohol and drug impairment. Refusing tests will result in a civil infraction, much like an alcohol preliminary breath test. There will be a total of 26 DREs over the span of the five counties, and only DREs are permitted to administer the tests, Banner explained.
According to Banner, in addition to the saliva tests, DREs will also continue to follow their standard drug testing procedures.
“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.
Only those suspected of driving under the influence can receive a saliva test. According to Banner, tests will not be administered at roadblocks or sobriety checkpoints because it is currently illegal to do so in Michigan.
Michigan Police To Begin Testing Drivers’ Saliva For Drugs
The Michigan State Police said that despite the new form of roadside testing, standard arrest protocols for impaired driving will not be changed. Additionally, arrests will not be made solely based on the results of the oral exam. Banner compared the practice to breathalyzer tests administered when a motorist is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol.
“The oral fluid test will be used to test for drug impairment in the same way a PBT is used to test for alcohol impairment,” she said.
Despite its potential, there are some detractors of the new practice. Attorney Neil Rockind of Rockind Law believes the Michigan State Police Department may be getting ahead of themselves when it comes to the introduction of roadside saliva testing.
“The legal system and law enforcement want it to be fast and perfect,” Rockind said when the initiative was first announced. “Science is not fast. Developing scientific techniques and perfecting those techniques typically takes years and years, and science is never perfect.”
“What works in a lab doesn’t work in court,” he added.
While Rockind certainly has a point, only time will tell whether or not the saliva tests will yield effective results.