Pubdate: Fri, 03 Jun 2016
Source: Amherst News (CN NS)
Copyright: TC Media 2016
Author: Tom Wood
Column: Police Beat
Page: 14


According to MADD, impaired driving on average claims 1,250 to 1,500
lives each year and injures approximately 63,000 Canadians. This
number is staggering when you consider that this is an entirely
preventable tragedy. I am concerned that the discussion of the
legalization or decriminalization of Cannabis Marijuana may create an
increase in these numbers.

I believe that MADD has done a great job in campaigning on the dangers
of consuming alcohol while driving, but now drug impaired driving is
becoming more and more an issue. In fact, in some age groups, it may
be a bigger problem than alcohol-impaired driving.

Currently, police use drug recognition experts (DREs) to help identify
what drugs have been consumed by drivers.

A driver who is suspected to be impaired has to undergo an extensive
battery of tests so that the officer can determine the level (if any)
of impairment. Officers trained in the DRE program have to undergo
rigorous training in order to be certified.

The officers take a medical and physiological approach, in that they
have to watch for biological and medical signs that a person exhibits
when they are on a drug. The biggest issue is that these officers, as
highly trained as they are, cannot be everywhere at once.

There are very few officers trained in these procedures across the
province. In fact, in a study done by MADD, drug-impaired driving
charges were only 1.88 per cent of all total impaired charges in 2012.

Our Cumberland MADD chapter is advocating the use of roadside saliva
testing for the most commonly used illicit drugs. In these cases, if
an officer felt that a driver was under the influence of a drug, he
would simply use a device which would get a sample of saliva off of
the tongue.

Within minutes, the device would tell the officer if the driver was

This device would be similar to the use of roadside screening devices
that are used for alcohol. If the device recorded a fail, then the
driver would be arrested and brought back to the police department
where an accurate reading would be taken.

I believe that these saliva tests would increase an officer's ability
to detect drug impairment and you would most likely see an increase in

I would love to see something like this be set in place across the
country before any thought of legalization is contemplated. Without
it, police forces will have greater difficulty getting these drug
impaired drivers off the road and the expectant result would be more
deaths and injuries on our highways.

Another thing that needs to take place is setting legal limits for
commonly used illicit drugs. In Australia, for example, authorities
have set the legal limits for THC (the psychoactive ingredient in
marijuana) to five nanograms per micro-litre of blood. This would be
similar to the blood alcohol content (BAC) for alcohol

There are some pitfalls in creating limits. Some people react
differently to different drugs and many users will have a combination
of drugs in their system. Like alcohol, if an officer can provide
driving evidence that a person was driving impaired then a precise
reading test is not required but would only bolster an investigation.
Another issue is that many people take prescription

A reader or detector would have to work in such a way that it would
not produce a positive result when someone is taking their medication
as prescribed. Can someone be impaired by using prescribed

Of course they can and the use of opioids and its abuse has exploded
in recent years. This may be the reason why these detectors are not
presently in place as there are many factors that need to be overcome,
and the devices have to be tested to bear the brunt of legal challenges.

The Cumberland MADD chapter is also pushing for provincial suspensions
for drug impaired driving.

At present, if you are arrested for alcohol impaired driving, you will
get a minimum of a seven day driving suspension to your license.

With drug impaired investigations, no such suspensions exist. Only
Nova Scotia and New Brunswick currently do not have any provincial
drug-related administrative program. This has to change and
suspensions have to be meted out to drivers suspected to be impaired
by drugs.

The current model for detecting drug impaired driving has to change
and hopefully, the federal and provincial governments will be
pro-active in getting ahead of this issue before we have any more
tragedies on our roads. Stay safe everyone.

Const. Tom Wood is the crime prevention officer with the Amherst
Police Department.
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