While breathalyzer tests aren’t infallible, they do provide an easy way to measure a person’s level of alcohol impairment. Numerous studies have demonstrated the impact of blood alcohol levels on coordination and concentration. It is well established that a driver with a blood alcohol level above .08 is more dangerous than he or she would be sober. The situation is more complicated when discussing marijuana and other drug impairment. Testing for marijuana is more difficult and even the knowledge that people have THC in their blood is not the same as knowing that they are impaired. Researchers are working on a way to change that.
The issue is likely to gain steam as more states legalize marijuana, either for medical use or for recreational use. Roughly half of states allow some form of marijuana consumption. This is despite the fact that federal law considers marijuana a schedule 1 drug and forbids people from using, selling or possessing it. Marijuana may soon share a similar status with alcohol. Its use will be legal, but the impairment that results will still leave people culpable for the harm they cause. States are currently grappling with drugged driving laws that could punish a driver who never operated a vehicle while impaired in any way.
One new device that shows promise is capable of measuring the presence and concentration of THC in a person’s saliva. There is some evidence that the concentration of THC in saliva is more indicative of impairment than traditional tests that look for THC in the blood or urine. This is important both for determining liability in car accident cases and in setting criminal laws that only punish bad actors. The public has a right to be safe from drivers who are too impaired to operate a motor vehicle safely, regardless of what caused the impairment.
A fast reliable test could also improve our understanding of just how big a problem drugged driving is. Alcohol impairment comes with obvious signs that are hard for investigators to miss. Marijuana impairment may escape notice in some cases. Drugged driving is dangerous, but it won’t be addressed properly unless the scope of the problem is clearly understood.
Source: Alternet, “Here Comes the ‘Potalyzer’-A 3-Minute Spit Test Could Spot Stoned Drivers,” by Carrie Kirby, 15 September 2016