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Michigan State police to begin saliva swab testing of drivers

The Michigan State Police will begin a pilot program of testing for drugged drivers using a saliva test. The program will be operated in five counties by specially trained officers. Critics of the program worry that the test results will be questionable because while it may be able to detect the presence of some drugs such as marijuana, it can't answer the question of impairment. Currently, there is no agreed upon standard for impairment as there is with alcohol.

A drug like marijuana behaves differently in the body from alcohol, which is quickly metabolized. The active components of marijuana tend to collect in the tissues and can be released for months after the individual actually inhaled or ingested the drug. One of the sponsors of the bill claims the "science is there," but he may be too optimistic.

A report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that use of "per se" thresholds for THC concentrations in the blood, similar to BAC, "cannot be scientifically supported." The report noted that currents tests misclassified too many drivers as either impaired or not impaired to make it useful.

The criminal justice system is currently dealing with many problematic areas of forensic science, where less-than-reliable "evidence" is often admitted into cases to obtain guilty verdicts. For decades, courts have accepted bite-mark analysis and hair-follicle comparisons, in spite of an almost complete absence of this material having any scientific method or rigor supporting its claims.

The results of this pilot program need to be rigorously examined to ensure that the need for a test to determine the impaired condition of drivers does not make up for the lack of scientific veracity of the test.

Source: "Roadside drug tests on way in Michigan pilot program," Jonathan Oosting, June 10, 2016

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