Michigan Officers Step Up Finding Drug-Impaired Drivers With Saliva Tests

Nov 22, 2017

WKAR's Brooke Allen talked with law enforcement about new saliva tests being used to test for drugs. She separated fact from fiction with a Washtenaw county Sheriff Deputy. 


Brooke Allen, WKAR: "Last year, traffic fatalities soared."

Lt. Col. Rick Arnold, Michigan State Police: "In 2016 in Michigan, there were over a thousand fatal crashes. Of those, approximately 25-percent were alcohol-involved fatalities. 39-percent were alcohol or drug-involved fatalities, involving some impairment of the driver."

Allen: "In an effort to curb the incidents of drug driving, MSP rolled out the roadside drug testing pilot program in the beginning of November. That program is only being administered by highly trained officers called Drug Recognition Experts or DRE's in five counties: Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair, and Washtenaw. Brian Webb is a Deputy and a DRE with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office. Webb says a DRE is trained to recognize both the cognitive and physical symptoms of a drug-impaired driver."

There's no DNA being taken and we're not doing random searches of people's saliva. - Deputy Brian Webb, Washtenaw County Sheriff

Deputy Brian Webb, Washtenaw County Sheriff's Dept.: "So that goes from your standardized field sobriety test that we do a 12-step process, looking at people's vital signs, their eyes, how they act, their responses, their cognitive responses... We're just overall looking for in a nutshell to see how drugs affect them and how they're impairing the body."

Allen: Webb explains how the saliva test works and the drugs it can identify.

Webb: "Take the oral swab of somebody, put it into the cartridge... what it's looking for.. six categories of drugs by itself. These are the most commonly found: amphetamines, methamphetamines, opioids like herion, codeine and other things that we're looking for, cocaine, benzo-  like xanax, other anti-depressant medications and then marijuana is what the instrument is looking for."

Allen: "So it picks those up in any amount?"

Webb: "There's a certain cut off amount that it will detect. So if we know if its in the saliva we know that its been used in the last few hours. That's what we're looking for."

Saliva tests are only being administered by highly trained officers called Drug Recognition Experts in five counties: Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair, and Washtenaw.

Allen: "Tell us one myth that you've heard that you can actually tell our listeners, 'no that's not the case'."

Webb: "We're not going to be taking people's DNA... when I'm done with the saliva test it gets thrown out."

Webb: "There's no DNA being taken and we're not doing random searches of people's saliva."

Webb: "We have to have some time of real suspicion or probable cause to give these tests. We have to have bad driving. We have to have a crash. We have to have something to give us a basis to give this test."

Allen: "Webb says since the pilot began on November 8, he's made seven arrests for drug driving."