Combating drugged driving remains a challenge for U.S. law enforcement and prosecutors.  -  Photo: Canva

Combating drugged driving remains a challenge for U.S. law enforcement and prosecutors.

Photo: Canva

AAA has released detailed expert guidance and new tools to assist policymakers, prosecutors, law enforcement, and toxicology laboratory staff when starting or expanding an oral fluid program to detect drugged drivers.

Driving impaired by any drug is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. However, when suspected, it is often difficult to prove. The problem is that blood samples are typically collected 2 to 2.5 hours after the initial traffic stop. By then, some drugs are quickly processed by the body to the point that lab testing may find only trace amounts if any at all.

Oral fluid is equally as strong a sample as blood in all the ways that matter to the toxicologists who analyze them in laboratories, according to AAA. Unlike blood, oral fluid can be easily collected roadside in a timely fashion — at the point when the driver was pulled over and thought to be under the influence of one or more drugs.

AAA notes that lack of knowledge on the part of stakeholders is a key barrier to implementing an oral fluid testing program. For example, police officers are faced with misinformation about the value and reliability of using oral fluid and some stakeholders are confused about using oral fluid for screening on the roadside versus testing in a laboratory.

Moreover, although nearly two dozen states have legalized collecting oral fluid for use in impaired driving investigations, only three do it in practice, according to AAA.

To address the knowledge gap and boost the uses of oral fluids as a more expedient way to test potentially drug-impaired drivers, AAA has created several educational tools. These include a guidance report compiled from numerous scientific and legal sources and offers lessons learned regarding what works and how best to address common barriers and challenges with roadside drug testing.

Additional materials include a quick reference handout. This offers a summary of the guidance report, highlighting differences between screening and testing when using oral fluid in impaired driving investigations; when police officers should collect oral fluid during an investigation; and important terms and studies.

Finally, the new educational kit also features a pocketsize reference card for use by police officers. It contains a subset of the content included in the quick reference handout.

Drugged driving remains a serious concern on the nation’s roadways. According to a 2020 study of trauma centers, 56% of drivers who were involved in serious injury and fatal crashes tested positive for at least one drug, notes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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