a. When should law enforcement drug test drivers?
Drivers should be drug tested when there is suspicion of impairment, even in those cases where the presence of alcohol has been detected.
Drivers identified as impaired who do not have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit should be tested for drug use.
Drug testing should be done along with BAC testing at all sobriety checkpoints.
Drivers involved with fatal car crashes, and crashes resulting in serious injuries, should be required to submit to drug testing and BAC testing either at the scene or at the hospital.
Law enforcement may utilize Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) in association with roadside testing. The 12-step DRE response to a drugged driver is particularly useful when determining if a person is under the influence of a valid prescription drug. Many prescription drugs have impairing effects and can be different for individuals based on their tolerance levels.
Drug Testing Resources
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs)
An Australian study conducted by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund evaluated standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) for the detection of impairment associated with cannabis only and cannabis with alcohol. Findings demonstrate that the consumption of cannabis alone and with alcohol significantly impairs driving behavior. The research also highlights that the SFSTs are appropriate measures for the detection of cannabis consumption alone, and cannabis and alcohol consumption, as well as driving impairment associated with the consumption of these drugs.
Drug Recognition Expert Response to the Drug Impaired Driver
The National District Attorneys Association's American Prosecutors Research Institute provides an overview of the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program, officer, and procedures direct from the Los Angeles Police Department's DRE Unit. A systematic 12-step process is used to determine if an individual is under the influence of a specific category of drugs.
Use of Sobriety Checkpoints for Impaired Driving Enforcement
The Department of Transportation's Traffic Safety Programs developed sobriety checkpoint guidelines for police administrators to consider using in order to ensure that sobriety checkpoints are used legally, effectively and safely.
b. Which drugs should drivers be tested for and what matrix?
The standard SAMSHA-5 panel is a commonly-available drug test that is sensitive to marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine/methamphetamines, opiates and phencyclidine (PCP) can be used to detect the use of illegal drugs. However, this panel needs to be expanded for highway drug testing to include many other drugs of abuse, especially synthetic opiates, stimulants and benzodiazepines.
All states should accept drug and alcohol results from a variety of testing technologies, including oral fluids, urine and blood, both for data collection purposes and as evidence in legal proceedings.
It is recommended that alcohol breath tests also known as breathalyzers be used to determine blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Oral fluids tests should be used by law enforcement to screen for the presence of drugs using enzyme immunoassay technology and later confirmed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Drug test results should be reported as either positive or negative without quantification as stated by the per se standard.
c. How should law enforcement handle arrestees?
Drivers who test positive for both alcohol and illegal drugs should be charged with an aggravated offense, with penalties greater than those for either alcohol- or drug-related violations alone.
Drivers found guilty of drugged driving should be screened for their need of substance use disorder treatment, and they should be carefully monitored with random drug tests to ensure no use of illegal drugs as a condition of regaining and then retaining their driver's licenses for a prolonged period of time.