Driving high? Roadside saliva tests now detect impaired drivers

While a Breathalyzer test can accurately report the amount of alcohol in a person’s system (allowing police to determine a driver’s level of intoxication), there hasn’t been a roadside test available for detecting marijuana or other drugs. Scientists across the nation have been working for years to develop such a test for marijuana that goes beyond the usual behavioral indicators police tend to look for in someone who is intoxicated.

The Dräger DrugTest 5000 now a leader in detecting cannabis use

Roadside saliva testing, an alternative to breath testing, has been used in other countries, including Germany and Belgium, for nearly a decade. One promising saliva test is now available in over a dozen states, including New York, California, Vermont and Michigan.

Introduced to American law enforcement officials in 2009, the Dräger DrugTest 5000 machine tests a person’s saliva for the presence of marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, methadone and sedatives such as benzodiazepines.

Currently, Dräger results are the only roadside saliva test results admissible in court, though attorneys say that Dräger toxicology results may not have an impact on how drug cases are resolved in court.

How does the Dräger saliva test work?

Using the Dräger machine is simple. If an officer suspects drug intoxication, they give the driver a mouth swab and ask them to run it around the inside of their mouth. The officer then places the swab in a vial of solution for testing. If there’s a positive result, a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) may be called to the scene to further evaluate the driver, or the driver may be taken in for a blood test.

According to CNN, other alternatives to the Dräger DrugTest 5000 currently in development include the Hound device by Hound Labs, which tests for both marijuana and alcohol on a person’s breath, and a similar device in development by Canada’s Cannabix Technologies.

Issues with roadside saliva testing for cannabis

While many drivers show impairment while under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, many show few to no signs of intoxication at all. One person’s blood levels of delta-9 THC (the active compound responsible for impairment), may be the same as another’s, yet only one might show signs of intoxication.

Another roadblock for police is the lack of a consistent legal threshold for the amount of a particular drug present in an intoxicated driver’s system. Officers still must rely on subjective behavioral characteristics to determine if a person is impaired by a drug.

While we now have the technology to determine if a drug is present in a driver’s system, figuring out if a driver is actually impaired can be a trialanderror process for police, regardless of the type of machine used to gather initial evidence of intoxication.

If you have been charged with a DWAI involving marijuana intoxication, contact an experienced local defense lawyer who can help you figure out your rights.

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Glenn R. Bruno, Esq.

New York Defense Lawyer
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