Roadside drug testing can do better

Watching the Australian television show RBT  I was interested in the way in which illegal drugs were tested when compared to alcohol. The alcohol test is fairly tamper proof, and two separate analyses are taken. More importantly, alcohol concentration is derived from both testing procedures which are important in determining whether the drug is considered sufficiently influencing driving skills. The illegal drug test behaves rather differently.

To begin with, the drug test does not test prescription medication despite driving whilst under the influenced outlawed and has well established detrimental effects on driving (depending on what sort of medication of course). This seems strange to me as I would assume most drugs have a fairly easy methods of detection. Perhaps it has something to do with the way in which the drugs that are tested (and subsequently prosecuted for) are analyzed. Rather than used a sliding scale of concentration, the tests are on a yes/no basis. This is flawed for a couple of reasons. Firstly, while there are a few myths surrounding these tests, it just so happens that some are to a degree, true. More importantly, while alcoholic concentration is almost certainly a very good predictor of decreased driving performance, some illegal drugs can remain within the human body long after noticeable, driving-affecting effects has passed. Nevertheless police can still prosecute driving under the influence with this data. Relating this back to the prescription medicine issue it is likely that some prescription medication is in the same situation. This would therefore lead to prosecution of people showing no driving impaired skills but with legally purchased drugs within their system. The outcry would be deafening.

While a failed drug test means that the police can search the person’s car, it also leads to suitable prosecution of driving while under the influence of narcotics. While I could hardly be concerned with the fairness of this procedure I can be concerned with the safety of road users. Because police are unwilling to test prescription drugs, we almost certainly have hordes of influenced drivers who can almost certainly avoid prosecution provided they don’t admit anything. In the same breath, we have people imbibing illegal substances (some of which are safe as houses and orders of magnitude safer than legal drugs and scientifically explored to be better even when driving), not actually impaired by them by the time they get in the car and getting prosecuted just as if they were. While a “serves you right” attitude might be floating in some heads, this sort of prosecution means that prescription medication users will never get punished due to the concern for public outcry.

What can be done? A better, alcohol test-like test would be an option, but this would mean studies that rate level of various drug concentrations with driver performance which could be considered harm minimization (political suicide in Australia if there ever was) as well as making laws vastly complicated; in addition how would one calculate for mixed drugs? Perhaps the best choice, in my opinion, is a somewhat informal test (not dissimilar to the ones employed by American police officers) once drug presence has been confirmed. Establish test parameters, tell the public if the test fails then you suffer a DUI. This way people who are dangerous are jailed, and no one escapes prosecution.

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~ by freeze43 on July 6, 2011.

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