Beyond the Breathalyzer; Testing Drivers For Drugs

Concateno, a company made up of several drug and alcohol testing labs and manufacturers throughout Europe have announced the development of a simple hand held road-side testing device that police can use to test drivers for the presence of drugs.

While drugged driving doesn’t get as much press as driving under the influence of alcohol, it is a serious problem and apparently, drug use among drivers is just as prevalent as alcohol use. According to the Concateno press release, an Australian study showed that 35% of drivers hospitalized after a crash showed the presence for illicit drugs compared to 29% testing positive for alcohol.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), latest study on drugged driving showed that among the total number of drivers who were killed in car crashes in 2009, 18% tested positive for drugs. Those figures don’t represent the depth of the problem because not every state tests for the presence of drugs. Among the fatally injured drivers who were tested, 33% showed the presence of drugs in their system at the time of the crash.

A 2007 study by NHTSA showed that at least 16% or one out of every six weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for the presence of drugs. The 2008 Monitoring The Future Study, an ongoing annual assessment of drug and alcohol use by high school students showed that, among the respondents, one in ten high school seniors reported driving after smoking marijuana within the two weeks before the interview.

The new hand-held device tests a single oral fluid sample and can, within five minutes, test for the presence of cocaine, cannabis, opiates, amphetamines and methamphetamines. A previously developed device made by the same company has been used by police forces in Italy, Spain, Australia and Croatia. The new device has not been approved yet for use in the United Kingdom but there is strong public pressure to add it to law enforcement’s arsenal of weapons against drunk and drugged driving.

In Australia, where the device has been used for some time, officials report that, over the past five years, the number of drivers charged with driving under the influence of drugs has dropped by half.

This is a device that American law enforcement agencies may want to consider adding to their equipment list to more effectively remove drugged drivers from America’s roads.