Blood Drug Tests For Drugged Drivers Could Be Coming!

Would you allow a police officer to draw your blood during a traffic stop? In the next year or so, you may not have a choice. Police departments have been relying on breathalyzers to catch intoxicated drivers since the 1940s. But with ten states officially legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, and New York possibly in line to become the 11th, the rules for detecting drivers under the influence behind the wheel are about the change.

According to Insurance Journal, D.U.I. police officers in Phoenix, Arizona have begun issuing on the spot blood draws for drivers suspected of operating their vehicles under the influence of marijuana. In a situation that occurred back in January of this year, a driver was pulled over on a Friday night after he was spotted by police speeding and weaving in and out of his lane. The driver failed a field sobriety test but passed the breathalyzer test. When he admitted he had smoked marijuana a few hours before, the officers took the necessary steps to secure a warrant, mandate a blood draw, and obtain a lab report showing his THC levels all within 79 minutes.

According to the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.), an estimated 12.8 million people in the United States drove under the influence of illicit drugs in 2017, some flying entirely under the radar. With New York legislators looking to legalize marijuana by the end of 2019, all residents should be educated on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and what methods could be coming down the line to detect these harmful substances.

Drugged Driving Is On The Rise

One of the most significant stances against legalizing marijuana is the possibility of seeing more drugged drivers on the road. For some states, this possibility has become a reality. A report released last October by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (I.I.H.S.) analyzing police crash rates in states that have legalized marijuana found that drug-related traffic accidents are on the rise.

 

The study examined the police-reported crash rates in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, all states who have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. This is what they found:

  • Colorado: The effect of recreational marijuana legalization increased crash rates by 7.4%.
  • Washington: The effect of recreational marijuana legalization increased crash rates by 3.6%.
  • Oregon: The effect of recreational marijuana legalization increased crash rates by 4.3%.

 

Unfortunately, because there are currently no comprehensive road tests for testing the level of drugs in someone’s body, the true prevalence of drugged driving our nation’s roads is unknown. Other factors according to the N.I.H. that are impeding our ability to collect information on drugged driving include:

  • How long drugs stay in your body: The amount of time that an illicit substance stays in a person’s body can range from days to weeks. Determining when the drug was used is difficult when you factor in each person’s metabolic rate, the type of substance they used, and how often they use the substance.
  • Police don’t always test for drugs: If a driver tests positive for drunk driving, police departments typically do not pursue more testing to determine if there are other substances the driver could have taken in addition to consuming alcohol. They also may only record the presence of alcohol in someone system which could skew the data on drugged driving crash statistics.
  • It’s hard to tell which substance caused the accident: Even if police officers did initiate more drug tests for individuals found guilty of drunk driving, it’s difficult to tell which substances inevitably led to were the someones inability to drive safely.

Top Three Drugs Affecting Drivers

Drivers under the influence of any substances can have poor judgment and reaction time when behind the wheel of a car, but the N.I.H. lists three specific drugs that are causing most of the drug-related accidents: marijuana, methamphetamine, and opioids.

Marijuana

Marijuana is the most common substance among drivers who operate their vehicle under the influence of drugs. Available in a variety of different forms, marijuana is easy to get and even easier to take too far, too quickly. Marijuana affects your cognitive functions and psychomotor skills that are critical when it comes to driving. These skills affect the parts of the brain responsible for time and distance perception, drowsiness, vigilance, reaction time, divide attention, lane tracking, and overall coordination and balance.

Methamphetamine

Drivers under the influence of methamphetamine or cocaine display some of the most dangerous and aggressive behaviors on the road. According to Addiction.com, these drivers are highly likely to speed, swerve, fail to react to traffic signals, tailgate, and perform risky maneuvers in traffic or on congested roads. These substances can also cause a driver to have trouble speaking coherently, sitting upright, and make them more prone to violent road rage.

Opioids

With the opioid epidemic affecting our entire country, it is not surprising that some drivers would be heavily under the influence of these drugs on the road. According to WebMD, the most popular opioids include codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, meperidine, methadone, morphine, and oxycodone. Whether illegally obtained or prescribed, these drugs most often cause drowsiness and can impair a driver’s cognitive functioning on the road.

Should States Start D.U.I. Blood Testing?

As of now, blood testing appears to be the wave of the future when it comes to drug testing drivers. Here’s how the process in New York could work if it were modeled after the Phoenix Police Department:

  1. Police officers would be trained and certified in drawing blood.
  2. In the field, officers would be equipped with a special chair and table for blood testing at traffic stops or D.U.I. checkpoints.
  3. If a driver refused a blood draw, officers could file for an electronic warrant for the blood draw via a laptop or electronic device at any time of day. On-call judges would be available to approve warrants in a matter of minutes
  4. When a blood sample is collected, officers will send the results to a lab to determine the active level of THC or other substance in the bloodstream before determining a final decision on penalties for the driver.

Police officers in Arizona who are using this method of drug testing find they can get a more accurate picture of a driver’s state of mind without having to wait for hours for a test to be taken and processed at a health center facility. By training police officers in the field, they can also save money on the costs required to pay for a phlebotomist and hospital resources to perform the blood draw. Not everyone, however, is as supportive of this new method of drug testing as police officers.

According to the Insurance Journal article, opposers of the blood draw method are concerned with the hygienic nature of performing this type of procedure outside of a medical setting, worried about the spread of disease and infection in a non-sterile environment. In addition, critics are worried about an officer’s ability to obtain an adequate sample, particularly in a possibly hostile or dark setting, and without a great deal of experience with drawing blood. There is also the concern with how e-warrants can infringe on an individual’s rights and questions regarding the validity of an on-call judge who simply has to tap a device to agree or disagree with a warrant request.

But even with all of these concerns, the main question remains- is there a better way to test for harmful drugs that kill millions on the road every year?

Stop Drugged Driving

As we wait for New York law enforcement to decide how they want to catch drugged drivers on the road, residents can do their part in preventing these deadly accidents by driving sober and encouraging others around them to do the same.

Drugged driving is 100% preventable. If you encounter a situation in which a friend or a loved one plans to drive under the influence of drugs, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has some excellent tips for intervening highlighted by drugrehab.org:

  • Do not confront the driver when discussing plans for transportation.
  • Offer alternative methods of transportation for getting home or to your next stop such ride-sharing options or public transport.
  • Be aware of what substance your friend has been taking and how they are being affected by it.
  • Make your concern known that you do not want them to hurt themselves or someone else behind the wheel.
  • Suggest your friend spends the night to avoid having them drive home.
  • Use other supports to back up your plan to help your friend avoid driving.
  • If necessary, take the person’s keys to prevent them from driving.
  • If your friend insists on driving impaired, call law enforcement to intervene.

 

You can avoid the above situations altogether by agreeing as a group to using a method of transportation other than someone driving from the start, as well as only attending parties where illicit drugs are not present.