Oakville, Ontario, January 21, 2016 – With rates of drug-impaired driving on the rise, and with the federal government’s promise to legalize marijuana, the need for an effective and cost-efficient method to detect drug-impaired drivers is greater than ever.
A new paper, commissioned by MADD Canada, examines the availability and accuracy of roadside oral fluid testing for drugs, the approaches used in other countries, and considerations for moving forward with such technology in Canada. The paper, titled A Feasibility Study of Roadside Oral Fluid Testing, is authored by Associate Professor Mark Asbridge and Research Associate Rachel Ogilvie of the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University.
“Roadside oral fluid technology offers an objective, easy-to-use, cost-efficient and widely available test to detect the most commonly-used illicit drugs among drivers and is a good complement to the current Drug Recognition Evaluation process,” said Professor Asbridge.
The oral fluid testing devices can be used as preliminary screening devices for drugs, the same way that approved screening devices are used at roadside to detect alcohol in drivers.
“We have a situation here in Canada where we have high rates of drug use, particularly marijuana, where the legalization of marijuana for recreational use is a strong possibility, and where our current system for detecting drug-impaired drivers is simply not working,” said MADD Canada Chief Executive Officer Andrew Murie. “It’s a recipe for disaster on our roads.”
Roadside surveys indicate that driving after drug use is nearly as prevalent as driving after drinking alcohol. Yet, the rate of Criminal Code impaired driving charges remains very low. In 2014, just 2.6% of all impaired driving charges were for driving under the influence of drugs. That is just 1,355 out of 51,637 total impaired driving charges.
Currently, police have the authority to demand physical coordination testing, such as the Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST), if they have reason to suspect the driver has alcohol and/or drugs in his or her body. If, based on a failed SFST and other evidence, the police have reasonable grounds to believe that the driver is impaired by a drug, police may demand that the driver submit to a Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE). But the DRE process requires expensive specialized training, is time-consuming and results in few charges. DRE-certified officers are not distributed evenly across regions and provinces and therefore are not always available. Further, the results are not always accepted in court as proof of drug-impaired driving.
Impaired driving continues to be a serious problem in this country, killing between 1,250 and 1,500 people and injuring another 63,000 every year. Millions of Canadians continue to drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs with little fear of being stopped and tested, let alone charged and convicted. Canada has fallen far behind other comparable countries with respect to tools and technology to detect, apprehend and prosecute impaired drivers.
“Our current system for detecting drug-impaired drivers is ineffective,” said Mr. Murie. “The technology to conduct accurate, cost-effective and fast drug testing at roadside is already available and is widely used in other countries. We need our elected leaders to step up and make this a priority. Without leadership on this issue, the problem of drug-impaired driving is only going to get worse, and we will see more crashes, deaths and injuries on our roads.”
About MADD Canada
MADD Canada (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) is a national, charitable organization that is committed to stopping impaired driving and supporting the victims of this violent crime. With volunteer-driven groups in more than 100 communities across Canada, MADD Canada aims to offer support services to victims, heighten awareness of the dangers of impaired driving and save lives and prevent injuries on our roads.