The Case For Roadside Drug Tests

| by Mark Jones
A police car patrols the streets at nightA police car patrols the streets at night

Police departments around the country should follow the example of five Michigan counties that are beginning to institute roadside drug testing policies.

According to Upper Michigan Source news, 36 percent of traffic fatalities involve alcohol or drug use. Recognizing the severity of this statistic, Michigan representatives have proposed a bill that permits roadside drug tests.

Upper Michigan Source explains that The Barbara J. and Thomas J. Swift law will allow select Michigan State Police officers to conduct roadside drug tests if they believe that vehicle operators are driving under the influence of them.

The law is named after a couple from Michigan who was killed in a collision with a logging truck.  The truck driver was convicted of operating his vehicle under the influence of marijuana.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana use can “slow reaction time, impair judgment of time and distance, and decrease coordination.”  All three of these effects can lead to very dangerous decisions behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

NIDA also warns of the dangers of drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, which can cause drivers to become especially aggressive or reckless on the road. On the other end of the spectrum, sedative drugs lead to drowsiness and dizziness. 

Common sense tells us that drug abuse does not mix with vehicle operation.  Regardless, Americans continue to drive under the influence of drugs.

The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 10 million people reported driving while under the influence of illicit drugs.  Since we know that these people are on the road, and there is widespread awareness about the dangerous side effects of mixing drugs with driving, why would anyone object to roadside drug testing?

Currently, the five Michigan counties testing the Barbara J. and Thomas J. Swift law only permit Michigan State Police officers to conduct the tests if they are specially trained in drug recognition.

Additionally, WLUC reports that police cannot conduct the test unless they have a separate reason to stop the drivers in question.  This eliminates the possibility of increased racial profiling, a concern for many people who oppose roadside drug testing.

Another common objection to testing is the claim that the tests produce false positives. In Michigan, police are using saliva tests. reports that these tests are advantageous because they do not detect the presence of legally prescribed drugs and over-the-counter medications.

The benefits of roadside drug testing outweigh the negatives. Michigan lawmakers are right to make their roads safer by testing the Barbara J. and Thomas J. Swift law and, one day, fully enacting the law. 

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: NSDUH, Drug Info, WLUC / Photo credit: Scott Davidson/Flickr

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