Detecting Drug Impaired Driving

marihuana leafDetecting and successfully prosecuting drug impaired drivers on B.C.'s highways is not a simple task. Currently the Criminal Code provisions for Drug Recognition Expert examination is the only method used to qualify drug induced impairment where the driver is not obviously incapable of physical control. One day in the not too distant future, the Cannabix marihuana breathalyzer may allow police to deal with the problem though a roadside breath test just as they would an alcohol impaired driver.

A breath testing tool to detect THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, will have to undergo scientific testing to insure that it accurately measures the concentration on the driver's breath and relates it to the level in their blood. Once that has been determined the laws will need to be changed to indicate the maximum allowable THC level that the driver can have. Finally, the whole scheme will have to survive the challenge of our legal system.

We have not followed the current practices of countries like Britain and Australia. Britain has recently set blood concentration limits of a number of prescription and illegal drugs and enforces them by blood testing. Australia has done the same but uses saliva testing instead. A breath test based system, at least for THC, may be more palatable if it is successful as it is not as invasive a test as the other two are.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, drug impaired driving almost equaled alcohol impaired driving instances in fatal collisions during 2010. The Centre also reports that young people continue to be the largest group of drivers who die in crashes and test positive for alcohol or drugs. A system to effectively deter drug impaired driving is needed and the Cannabix device may be a made in B.C. component of the solution.

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Roadside testing for drug use

In my opinion testing drivers for drug(s) or alcohol should not be left to only using a THC tester or the breathalyzer.  I would rather be tested using saliva or blood samples.

I believe relying on the THC tester only deals with just a small part of the problem.  If we are impaired, we are impaired so why not use a test which will account for any misuse.

THC Breathalyzer, you don't say...

Do the actual effects of THC on drivers even make for a good argument to have yet another "public safety" reason to conduct more unlawful search and seisure? And can this really be discussed with-out addressing the ongoing self-medication with drowsy "no heavy machinery" drugs? How many people on anti-depressants, anti-allergens, anti-psychotics and other precription and non-prescription medications regularly forgo the "don't operate heavy machinery" clause - drive and crash and go unpunished for their mistakes? Certainly not as many as those who drive drunk.

And how comparable are the effects of THC and alchohol? Having breathalyzers for THC suggests that it's on equal footing with alchohol - certainly the new media campaign puts it that way.

But really, if every driver on the road was mandated to smoke a big fat marijuana cigarette before driving - the roads would be slower, mellower and less agressive. However if every driver was made to drink 300 gramms of vodka before driving - there would certainly be mayhem (at least untill everyone got accustomed to it).

Supreme Court Judge ruled that unlawful search and seisure is OK in the interests of public safety in Canada; I say why bend the Charter Of Rights with the arbitrary exceptions, just get this "imparement" thing out of the way for good by installing regulation mandated local (non-networked) blood testers in every car and getting rid of this DUI pull-over exception. 

Lets comeback to the time where you had to actually DO something wrong before cops could demand that you unconditionally surrender your Charter provided rights, property and evidence.

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Have you seen this?

Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk - NHTSA

It was picked up in the media recently a bit and seems to point to marijuana use not being as risky as alcohol on the road: I would guess the alcohol reduces inhibitions and makes drivers more prone to risk taking whereas marijuana leads to less risk taking (e.g. lower speeds). I would guess there is also a wide spectrum of impairment from marijuana and difficulties determining the current level of impairment. 

Also, I would be concerned if people were testing positive from usage that is not affecting their ability, e.g. 24-hours earlier but still detectable due to the persistence. 

I'm not a user, so I'm not motivated by personal concerns, but I don't want to see safe drivers facing harsh penalties for something that isn't proportional to the offence.

Might be fodder for a future column.

My motivation:

"Universal literacy was supposed to educate the common man to control his environment. Once he could read and write he would have a mind fit to rule. So ran the democratic doctrine. But instead of a mind, universal literacy has given him rubber stamps, rubber stamps inked with advertising slogans, with editorials, with published scientific data, with the trivialities of the tabloids and the platitudes of history, but quite innocent of original thought."

Controversial Topic

This is such a contreversial topic at this point, and I believe there is more risk from other drugs than just THC.  Some people use drugs as an excuse to be able to drive rather than risking to drink, even though it's just as dangerous - but less obviously detective.  Setting maximum limits for intoxication levels might be quite useful in this case to battle this issue.

However, it still doesn't address the problem that I see so often.  That even the blood level concentration might not be enough in some cases.  I know people that get drunk from just 1 beer and if they have 2, I wouldn't let them drive.  And I'm sure they're still under the limit at this point, but just that much more sensitive to alcohol.  Others I know could have 3 or 4 and you wouldn't even be able to tell.

I think using the roadside physical sobriety tests and improving on them should be given more thought and attention.  In addition to all the technology, some basic assesment of reaction time, vision, and motor skills might save us from drugs or intoxicators we might not even know about.

Just my 2 cents.

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