New Police Field Drug Screen Now Being Tested in Washtenaw County

Thursday, November 9, 2017

We all know the dangers of impaired driving, but usually when we think of “driving under the influence,” we envision someone having too many drinks at the bar. While alcohol is by far still the preferred substance for impaired drivers, the Michigan State Police (MSP) report that “drugged driving” is on the rise. That is why the previous Legislature passed a law in 2016 to audition a new field drug testing device.

The media has written a lot about this pilot program which is currently under way in five Michigan counties, including Washtenaw. I must say, I found some of the articles confusing, and so I reached out directly to the State Police for clarification.

Specifically, I wanted to know:

  • Are motorists being randomly pulled over and tested for drugs? No. MSP told me a motorist must be pulled over for a legitimate traffic or criminal violation, and there must be suspicion of drug use before the test is administered by a qualified drug recognition expert.
  • Are statistics being collected on the age, gender and ethnicity of those pulled over and drug tested under this program? Yes, MSP captures this data for every traffic stop conducted by troopers throughout the state. Therefore, the data will also be captured using the same system for this pilot test.
  • What is the penalty for failing this test? There is no penalty for failing the test. The test is merely an evaluation tool used to help the trooper decide whether there is probable cause for an arrest for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
  • What would happen if a motorist refuses to take the test? Refusal to submit to a preliminary oral fluid analysis test is a civil infraction, punishable by a court-imposed fine.

I want to thank the Michigan State Police for taking the time to thoroughly answer my questions. Below is a written statement from MSP which further explains the Oral Fluid Pilot program. Please feel free to contact my office if you have additional questions or concerns on this matter.

Oral Fluid Pilot Summary

The Preliminary Oral Fluid Analysis pilot program was established by Public Acts 242 and 243 of 2016. The pilot program will establish policies for the administration of roadside drug testing to determine whether an individual is operating a vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance in violation of Michigan law. The one-year pilot program will begin on Nov. 8, 2017.

Over the last several years, Michigan has seen a steady increase in fatal crashes involving drivers impaired by drugs. In 2016, there were 236 drug-involved traffic fatalities, which is an increase of 32 percent from 179 drug-involved traffic fatalities in 2015.

The pilot counties were chosen based on several criteria, including the number of impaired driving crashes, impaired drivers arrested, and trained Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) in the county.

DREs are police officers who have received highly specialized training that allows them to identify drivers impaired by drugs. Although the pilot program is being organized and managed by the MSP, DREs employed by county, township, and municipal police agencies will also be involved.

Under the pilot program, if a suspected drugged driver is stopped for a violation of the law, then a DRE may be called to the scene to conduct a roadside evaluation. A DRE may require a person to submit to a preliminary oral fluid analysis to detect the presence of a controlled substance in the person’s body if they suspect the driver is impaired by drugs.

The preliminary oral fluid analysis will be conducted by a DRE on the person’s oral fluid, obtained by mouth swab, and will be administered along with the 12-step drug recognition evaluation currently used by DREs. Just like with a preliminary breath test for alcohol intoxication, refusal to submit to a preliminary oral fluid analysis upon lawful demand of a police officer is a civil infraction.