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Detroit Legal Blog

Roadside Drug Testing In Michigan

Aug 24, 2016, by Maurice Davis in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes, Legal Blog, OWI

Later this year, the Michigan State Police (MSP) will begin testing drivers for drug impairment through the use of controversial saliva tests. Supplemented by the expertise of so-called “Drug Recognition Experts” (DREs), the roadside drug testing is aimed at catching drugged drivers in the act and dissuading drivers from taking the wheel while impaired.

Michigan is facing a drugged driving crisis. In the last ten years, the number of crashes caused by drivers under the influence of drugs has increased by 40%, from 1,581 cases in 2006 to 2,215 cases in 2015. Last year, drugged driving crashes claimed 1,603 deaths and 12,544 injuries in Michigan.

In response to these worrisome statistics, the Michigan legislature passed the “Barbara J. and Thomas J. Swift Law” in early 2016, which created a roadside drug testing pilot program. Named after a couple who were killed by a trucker driving under the influence of cannabis, the bill gives the police the ability to perform saliva tests for drugs at traffic stops. In the past, drug tests could only be performed after an arrest at a medical facility.

Does Roadside Saliva Testing Effectively Determine Drug Impairment?

Saliva tests are able to detect the presence of cocaine, heroine, and THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in a person’s system. Unlike alcohol, however, there is no clear correlation between the presence of a drug in someone’s blood and that person’s impairment. For example, a person might still fail a saliva test the day after smoking a joint, when that person is no longer impaired.

Researchers are still scrambling to find a method for accurately determining drug impairment, but progress has been slow. The Michigan Government seems to be willing to use its own citizens as guinea pigs in a statewide effort to make a reliable roadside drug test. The pilot program may eventually result in an effective roadside testing system, but it will be at the expense of many Michiganders being charged with drugged driving on the basis of unproven methods.

Who are the MSP Drug Recognition Experts?

Acknowledging the weaknesses in the saliva testing methodology, Michigan lawmakers mandated that the saliva tests be conducted by Drug Recognition Experts (DRE), who will supplement the saliva test with a 12-step drug impairment evaluation. The DRE evaluation includes taking the suspect’s blood pressure, observing respiration, and determining whether the pupils are pin-pointed or dilated.

There are 99 certified DREs in Michigan. These law enforcement officers obtain the certification by attending a 72-hour course and then practicing their identification skills on prisoner volunteers. The officers who are able to determine which prisoners are on drugs are given the DRE certification.

How Davis Law Group Can Help

It remains to be seen how drugged driving cases resulting from the pilot program will play out. But as in any DUI case, a skilled Detroit criminal defense lawyer at Davis Law Group may be able to give the defendant the upper hand. Davis Law group is following closely the development of this pilot program to better serve any clients who may be charged with drugged driving as a result. If you need help with an impaired driving charge, call us today at (313) 818-3238 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.