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The Ride: California law enforcement tests new tech to combat drugged driving




A police officer demonstrates a new oral swab test to detect drugged driving at a Sacramento event hosted by California Assemblyman Tom Lackey.
A police officer demonstrates a new oral swab test to detect drugged driving at a Sacramento event hosted by California Assemblyman Tom Lackey.

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We all know drunk driving is dangerous. But California law enforcement agencies now say drivers killed in crashes are a lot more likely to be on drugs than to be drunk.

"Forty-three percent of drivers tested in fatal crashes in 2015 had used a legal or illegal drug, surpassing 37 percent who tested above the legal limit for alcohol," said David Swing, director at large for the California Police Chiefs Assn. "While law enforcement has many tools to combat drunk driving, our drugged driving toolbox is far less equipped."

Swing was one of several law enforcement officers attending the demonstration of a new traffic stop procedure and drugged driving saliva test in Sacramento Wednesday. Hosted by California Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) and attended by state legislators from both sides of the aisle, along with representatives from the California Highway Patrol and Sacramento Police Department, the event showcased an oral swab test that can be used to detect six different types of drugs during a roadside traffic stop.

Marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, methadone and benzodiazepine can all be detected using a portable machine from Alere Toxicology called the DDS. By early next year, the DDS will also be able to detect oxycontin, according to company representative Fred Delfino.

Police departments in Los Angeles, Fullerton, Sacramento and Bakersfield are currently using swab tests on a very limited basis.

"We’re trying to arm law enforcement with some tools to improve their ability to get dangerous drivers off the road," said Assemblyman Lackey, a former member of the California Highway Patrol. "There’s equipment available and our goal is to get it in their hands to protect us in a more effective way."

In 2015, Lackey introduced AB 1356, a bill that would have authorized saliva as a field sobriety test. A court case in Bakersfield last year has since ruled that saliva tests are admissible in court to prove impaired driving from drugs. Lackey is the author of another piece of legislation introduced this year; under AB 6, the California Highway Patrol would form a task force to help the state develop a coordinated response to drugged driving, including the use of saliva tests.