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Will saliva tests help police catch drugged drivers?

May 28, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

HB 5385 proposes allowing police to require suspected drugged drivers to submit to road-side chemical analysis of their saliva

drugged drivers

Would roadside saliva tests help Michigan police catch drugged drivers?

Rep. Dan Lauwers (R-St. Clair County) thinks so.

In his recently introduced House Bill 5385, Rep. Lauwers proposed that suspected drugged drivers should be subject to roadside “preliminary chemical tests” of their saliva “for the purpose of detecting the presence of any … controlled substance,” such as marijuana or illegal drugs.

A suspected drugged driver could be required to submit to a roadside saliva test if the police have “reasonable cause to believe” the driver’s saliva (or blood, breath or urine) has “any measurable amount” or “any detectable presence” of a controlled substance.

In a blog post on the Michigan House Republicans’ website, Rep. Lauwers said the following about his goal in introducing HB 5385:

“‘The growing incidents of drugged driving represents a clear and present danger to all Michigan residents, and immediate reforms are needed to help curb this ongoing threat.’”

The blog post also noted that “Michigan had the 12th highest rate of drugged drivers in the country from 2006-09, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,” as I also noted yesterday in my blog post about the prevalence of drugged driving in Michigan.

MLive writer Brian A. Smith reported that, during a hearing on HB 5385 before the House Judiciary Committee on April 17, 2014, a legislative liaison for the Michigan State Police testified that “the changes would ‘put a new tool in our toolbox’ for dealing with drugged driving,” but more research is still needed to ensure the saliva tests are reliable.

Not everyone is so optimistic about the proposed law’s ability to identify “drugged drivers,” i.e., those drivers who are truly driving under the influence of a controlled substance or marijuana.

Professor Brett Ginsburg of the University of Texas Health Science Center told Bill Laitner of the Livingston Daily that “a saliva test is a poor indicator of whether behavior might be impaired” because a saliva test can’t measure the level of THC (“the psychoactive component of marijuana that presumably could affect driving”) in a driver’s “nervous system.”

Additionally, medical marijuana advocates object to the saliva testing because it only detects the presence of marijuana in a driver’s system, not whether the driver is impaired, according to Smith’s MLive story.

How would this saliva drug testing bill affect medical marijuana users?

Medical marijuana advocates’ concern is that lawful medical marijuana users will be unfairly targeted and arrested. Under Michigan law, a lawful medical marijuana user cannot be arrested for driving with marijuana in her system so long as she is not driving “under the influence” of marijuana. (See People v. Koon, Michigan Supreme Court, 2013)

In response to the point about how his bill may adversely affect lawful medical marijuana users, the Livingston Daily reported that Rep. Lauwers said “he would support an amendment to his testing proposal, House Bill 5385, that would waive the test for motorists who could show police they possessed state medical marijuana cards.”

MLive noted that police in Los Angeles, California, are experimenting with using saliva testing to catch drugged drivers. Apparently, so is Ohio.

DUI defense attorney Charles M. Rowland II wrote in a blog post that Ohio State Highway Patrol officers are being trained as “Drug Recognition Experts” so they can use a new “portable drug testing device” which would allow the police to collect “oral fluid (mixed saliva)” from suspected drugged drivers.

We want to hear from our readers. What do you think about saliva tests to catch drugged drivers?

Related information:

What are the penalties when a driver on illegal drugs causes a car accident in Michigan?

Can medical marijuana users be sued for using marijuana if they cause a car accident?

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