Drug Testing Drivers Could Become as Simple as Breath Tests
By: Gerri Elder
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws apply to drivers who have had too much alcohol to drink before driving. Drivers who are driving impaired due to prescription or illegal drugs and inhalants can be charged with violations of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) laws. Both alcohol and drug impairment are responsible for thousands of tragic traffic accidents each year.
Breath tests and blood alcohol content testing done using blood samples can attempt to measure the amount of alcohol someone has consumed, and thus determine their level of impairment.
The development of scientific testing for impairment due to drug use has proved to be more of a challenge. However, new drug testing methods to detect impaired drivers may be just around the corner.
The National Institute of Health has recently released research guidelines that may lead to the development of new testing methods for drug abuse that can be used as routinely as breath tests. The Los Angeles Times reported that these guidelines were published in the August journal Addiction.
After nearly a century of research on alcohol abuse, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that alcohol is still a factor in 42 percent of traffic fatalities in the United States.
Research to determine how drug use factors into traffic fatalities has been slow, but the Guidelines for Research on Drugged Driving (GRDD) produced by the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety's (ICADTS) Working Group on Drugs and Driving shows promise of progress.
Experts hope that soon, people who are suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana or cocaine can be tested for the drugs simply by submitting a saliva sample for analysis.
In 14 states, there are zero-tolerance DUID laws that make any detectable amount of drug in a suspect's bloodstream an offense. These zero-tolerance DUI laws are based solely on the presence of a defined illegal drug in the bloodstream.
Currently, only Nevada's DUI laws specify that a higher than zero per se illegal drug level based on evidence, such as concentration in blood, is indicative of impairment. The drug concentration level which impairs driving that is specified by the state's DUID law is based on research illustrating that the specified concentration is related to crash involvement.
There is still much research to be done regarding driving under the influence of drugs and the impact it has on the fatality rate in traffic accidents. According to a Department of Transportation study, use of marijuana can alter a driver's perception of time, space and distance, thus slowing reflexes and causing poor judgment when driving. The use of cocaine can cause drivers to speed and change lanes erratically.
The effects of drugs can cause driving impairment that currently cannot be easily or adequately measured. Researchers hope to make progress in testing procedures in order to make the roadways safer for everyone.