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Drugged driving, part 2: Studies underway on roadside tools to test for drugs

The risk of being falsely accused of drugged driving is a real concern because objective standards are lacking in how law enforcement officers try to detect impaired driving.

To be sure, in Tennessee and other states certain officers do receive additional training in drug detection. As we noted in the first part of this post, however, these officers - known as drug recognition experts (DREs) - still have no scientifically quantifiable way of going beyond the types of subjective valuations used in field sobriety testing.

California experimenting with roadside drug tests

In California, authorities are testing new tools that are supposed to be able to use a saliva sample to test for drugs in someone's system. The goal is to make it possible to do a quick screening on the roadside, similar to what is done with a breathalyzer for alcohol impairment.

One new tool is called the Drager 5000. It has been in use in a pilot program in San Diego since last March. The Drager machines are also in use by the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as in Denver.

In Sacramento, the police are experimenting with a similar cheek-swab machine called the Alere DDS2. In addition, the California Highway Patrol has formed a task force to study the use of roadside testing tools in detecting drug impairment.

What this means for Tennessee drivers

Unlike breathalyzer tests for blood-alcohol level, taking a mouth-swab test for drug impairment is voluntary. But even when such tests are used, there are still no definitive guidelines that establish what constitutes driving impaired by drugs (or drugs in combination with alcohol).

In other words, in California as in Tennessee, the state still has to use DRE officers to try to show impairment by drugs. And even with the new tools that California is studying, those officers have no silver bullet for showing impairment.

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