Michigan State Police implement roadside drug-testing program in Kent County

GVL / Emily Frye   
GVPD place a man with a warrant under arrest on Saturday October 28, 2017.

GVL / Emily Frye GVPD place a man with a warrant under arrest on Saturday October 28, 2017.

Megan Webster

In recent years, Michigan has seen an increase in the number of individuals who have been involved in fatal crashes due to being impaired by drugs. According to the Michigan State Police (MSP), there were 236 drug-involved traffic fatalities in 2016, which was a significant increase from 2015. As a response, the MSP started a pilot program Wednesday, Nov. 8, to test people on the road to see if they are under the influence of drugs in violation of Michigan law.

The Preliminary Oral Fluid Analysis pilot program will be active for one year in five different Michigan counties: Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair and Washtenaw. 

These counties were chosen based on a number of factors, including the number of impaired drivers and arrests due to impaired driving, as well as the amount of trained Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) in these counties. A DRE is a police officer who is trained to recognize individuals who are under the influence of drugs. 

The test will be performed only after an individual has been pulled over for reckless driving and has adhered to standard field sobriety testing. At this point, the officer will give the driver the opportunity to submit to a preliminary oral fluid analysis. Then, a mouth swab will be taken from the driver’s body by a DRE. The swab will then be analyzed by a roadside machine that is similar to a breathalyzer for alcohol, which will let the officer know if drugs are present in the driver’s system. 

Sgt. Jeff Stoll of the GVSU Police Department said drivers must appear impaired in order for the swabbing to take place.  

“The idea behind this program is to combat impaired driving, and that still is the goal,” Stoll said. “It’s not to just go around and start swabbing drivers. They still have to show signs of impairment. Officers that are going to be utilizing the program can only utilize the saliva test after they’ve identified an impaired driver.”

Public Acts 242 and 243 of 2016 established the pilot program. The program will be managed by the MSP and the DREs employed by their respective counties, but the township and municipal police agencies will also play a role during the year that the pilot program will be effective. After the one-year mark, the state will compose a report with data that was taken during the year the program took place. They will send that report to the legislature for them to review and make an informed decision about the position of the program.

“It is just as dangerous to drive under the influence of marijuana as it is to drive under the influence of alcohol,” Stoll said. “If you have impairment, it doesn’t matter what is impairing you. The impairment still provides a safety risk to the driver and then by default the public.”

If students would like more information on this pilot program, they can visit the MSP website at www.michigan.gov/msp/. The MSP were contacted for this story but did not respond in time for publication.