Police departments in Illinois and around the country are struggling to cope with a surge in accidents caused by motorists under the influence of drugs. A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association reveals that more drivers who were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2015 tested positive for drugs than for alcohol, but identifying motorists who are under the influence of illegal drugs or prescription medications remains a problem for law enforcement.
A police department in DuPage County is meeting this challenge by issuing its officers drug testing kits that use saliva samples to screen for cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, marijuana and opiates. The Carol Stream Police Department will begin using the kits, which were developed by a German company, in February 2018. When drivers test positive for illegal drugs or prescription opioids, they will be asked to provide a blood sample to verify the results.
A CSPD representative said that the technology used in the kits is well established, but civil rights activists and criminal defense attorneys may not yet be convinced. While the science linking blood alcohol levels to intoxication is proven and accepted, drug impairment is a far more nebulous subject for the medical and scientific communities. This is because habitual drug users develop tolerances to narcotics over time and may not necessarily be impaired despite testing positive for illegal substances or prescription medications.
Criminal defense attorneys may follow developments in toxicology closely, and they could seek to have drunk driving or drug charges dismissed when the science supporting them is questionable. Prosecutors must establish proof beyond reasonable doubt to prevail in court, and they may choose to avoid the costs of a trial when meeting this burden could be difficult. Defense attorneys may also raise Fourth Amendment arguments when police officers have asked motorists to provide saliva samples with no clear evidence of impairment.