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OPINION

How to make Michigan’s roads safer

Tom Casperson

Michigan has strict laws against driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and police officers are empowered to act when they believe it is necessary.

If a motorist gets pulled over by law enforcement under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, the driver is given a Breathalyzer test on the spot. But until recently, there was not a viable option to easily test for drugs in a driver’s system.

Currently, police have to ask drivers to submit to a blood test if they are suspected of being under the influence of drugs. Getting a search warrant to force such a test takes even more time and resources.

But thanks to scientific advancements, there is now a viable option to test suspected drugged drivers just like we do with suspected drunk drivers.

I have teamed with my colleague, Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, to introduce legislation that would establish a field sobriety test for drugs. The proposed law would allow trained Michigan State Police troopers to test suspected drugged drivers with what is called a preliminary oral fluid test. Essentially, troopers who have gone through the training to become certified drug recognition experts could conduct the test by swabbing the saliva of a suspected drugged driver. The test would determine the presence of Schedule 1-5 controlled substances in the driver’s system—like cannabinoids, opiates and amphetamines — on the side of the road just like a Breathalyzer determines the presence of alcohol in a driver’s system.

To be clear, the analysis would take place only during routine traffic encounters where driver impairment is detected. The police would still need a valid reason to make a traffic stop and there would be no sobriety checkpoints, as Michigan is one of 10 states that does not allow them.

Since this is a new tool in law enforcement, our legislation would initially limit its deployment to a one-year pilot program in five counties. After that, officials would assess the results of the pilot program and present the findings to the Legislature for consideration to expand the program to more counties.

According to the Michigan State Police, more than 36 percent of all traffic fatalities involve alcohol or drugs. In 2013, the department reported there were 86 traffic fatalities involving marijuana. Two of them were Tom and Barbara Swift, who were residents of my hometown of Escanaba. The Swifts were killed in a traffic crash after being hit by a driver who had THC in his system.

As marijuana use becomes more prevalent, we are likely to see more related traffic incidents like the one that took the lives of Tom and Barbara Swift. In fact, despite efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence of these substances, drugged driving is on the rise.

That’s why we need the Barbara J. and Thomas J. Swift Law; to empower our law enforcement officials to conduct roadside tests for drugs so we can help make Michigan’s roads safer.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, represents Michigan’s 38th district.