A drugged driver killed my parents. Oral fluid roadside testing will save lives and save more families from that pain.
By Brian Swift
In 2013, a logging truck barreled through a red light and slammed into my parents’ car, killing my father instantly. My sister and I waited in anguish as my mother struggled to stay alive; she died three days later. This kind of selfish act is the worst kind of violence because somebody else chooses your fate for you. If losing my parents wasn’t enough, most victims like me battle with the prosecutor’s office just to get a trial. In our case, the driver would eventually be convicted and sentenced to a mere five years for his crimes. The suffering inflicted on my family can never be undone – cutting short my parents’ lives and others like them has to STOP!
The driver that killed my parents had THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in his system. Tragically, the number of people hitting the road high on drugs — from marijuana and cocaine to heroin and prescription medicine — is increasing. We have the technology to reduce impaired driving and give law enforcement the tools they need to get these people off our roads.
Following the death of my parents, my sister Patti and I advocated for change in Michigan and the legislators listened. More importantly, they acted. Public Act 242 and 243 of 2016, otherwise known as the Barbara J. and Thomas J. Swift Law, initiated an oral fluid drug testing pilot in five Michigan counties in November of 2018. In February of 2019, officials released the results of the five-county pilot to the legislature as required by the law. They were remarkable. Eighty-eight of the 92 results collected at the roadside were later confirmed by an independent laboratory or blood test. Based on the success of the initial program, it was expanded into a statewide effort in October 2019.
Under the pilot program, a DRE may require a person to submit to a preliminary oral fluid analysis to detect the presence of a controlled substance in the driver’s body if the DRE suspects the driver is impaired by drugs. Refusal to submit to a preliminary oral fluid analysis upon a lawful demand of a police officer is a civil infraction. The device that MSP chose for the pilot is the SoToxa Mobile Test System made by Abbott. This handheld device can test for six classes of drugs in oral fluid including THC (cannabis), cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, opiates, and benzodiazepines. SoToxa was chosen for Michigan’s pilot program because it is portable (necessary for roadside use), accurate, easy to use, and produces rapid test results.
Not surprisingly, cannabis was found to be the most prevalent drug found by the roadside testing program which aligns with national fatality data and roadside surveys. While oral fluid testing has been piloted numerous times in multiple states, the enactment of this law was groundbreaking because it was the first time that a state legislature mandated and funded a pilot. It is now considered a model that other states should replicate. The oral fluid swab does not substitute the 12-step drug evaluation that DREs are trained to perform on suspected drugged drivers. Oral fluid screening is a tool that can enhance current practice, not replace it.
More than 50 law enforcement agencies and over 100 DREs from around Michigan are actively participating in the pilot which is set to conclude this fall. The results of the second pilot will be reported by the end of 2020.
Our next step is to work with a coalition of committed stakeholders to make Michigan’s law and oral fluid program permanent in all 83 counties and expand the use of this technology to all law enforcement agencies. It is my hope that every state in the country will recognize the tremendous life-saving potential of roadside oral fluid testing. I am committed to educating and working with policymakers to make this a reality.
Many special interest groups will use fear tactics to condemn these devices just as they did with the breathalyzer. Rest assured, law enforcement is our front line and protects us from drivers who have no regard for anybody but themselves and create carnage on our roads. With your help, we can reduce the number of injuries and fatalities caused by these irresponsible drivers.
Oregon State Police Patrol Services Captain (Retired)
Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program Western Region Project Manager
Reinforcing the “Three-Legged Stool” to Combat Impaired Driving
Despite many positive efforts, impaired driving takes thousands of American lives each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2018 there were 10,511 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes in which at least one driver had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher, equating to 29 percent of all traffic fatalities for the year (1). Determining the number of drugged driving involved crashes remains a difficult task, but some estimates indicate that almost 44 percent of drivers in fatal crashes test positive for drugs (2).
Many law enforcement agencies today are faced with personnel shortages and budget limitations which can limit the agencies’ ability to implement strong enforcement practices or counter measures to combat impaired driving. However, no matter the jurisdiction or location, one foundational process that can be stressed is the “Three-Legged Stool” approach to combat impaired driving, especially as it relates to drugged driving. This successful approach stresses the importance of prosecution, toxicology, and law enforcement working together as a team to support the efforts to combat impaired driving. With the complexity of impaired cases and the increases in drugged driving, a “team approach” is recommended to make a meaningful impact.
Thanks to such organizations as MADD and many others, alcohol-related traffic fatalities are on the decline. However, drug-involved fatalities and drugged driving incidents are on the rise (3). The trend toward increased drugged driving incidents poses challenges for law enforcement, prosecutors, toxicologists, and others involved in traffic safety. Despite all the training, which includes Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training, drug impaired drivers too often go undetected or when arrested, may not always be prosecuted. Often this may be due to the disconnect between the arresting officer, the toxicology results, and the prosecutor.
With the expansion of legalized recreational marijuana, the resurgence of methamphetamine, and the increased use of other impairing drugs, it is critical that law enforcement administrators and highway safety professionals understand the importance of having officers trained and familiar with detecting drug impaired drivers and make this training a priority. With the assistance of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) continues to coordinate the delivery of the ARIDE and DRE training for police officers, prosecutors and toxicologists. Since the inception of the ARIDE program in 2009, over 45,000 people have been trained and there are now over 9,000 DRE trained officers in the United States and another 1,300 plus in Canada (4).
Law enforcement, prosecutors, and toxicologists are key foundational legs in supporting the efforts to combat impaired driving. As we address the drugged impaired driving challenges, we cannot forget this fundamental teamwork approach. We must also take advantage of valuable training opportunities to provide our officers, prosecutors and toxicologists with another “tool” for their impaired driving tool belt. Saving lives and reducing the incidents of impaired driving must always be at the forefront of law enforcement as should working together reinforcing the “Three-Legged Stool” to combat impaired driving.
National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2019, December). Alcohol Impaired Driving: 2018 data (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 812 864). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
MADD April Law Enforcement Support Newsletter – Officer of the Month Lieutenant Don Marose – Minnesota State Patrol
Lieutenant Don Marose retired from the Minnesota State Patrol on April 3, 2020. At the time of his retirement Don was the statewide DRE/SFST/Phlebotomy Coordinator. He served with the State Patrol for nearly 32 years. He worked the freeways in Minnesota for the first 14 years of his career, working the overnight shift where he arrested and removed many impaired drivers from the roadways. He also supervised the Executive Protection/Capitol Security Division from 2011 to 2013.
Lieutenant Marose is a nationally known expert on impaired driving. He helped coordinate and start Minnesota’s Phlebotomy Program which was one of the first in the nation. He has taught numerous DRE/ARIDE classes throughout Minnesota, around the United States and Canada
Lieutenant Marose has served on the MADD Minnesota Advisory Board since 2011 and has been its chair since 2013. He helps plan and coordinate MADD’s yearly statewide Law Enforcement Recognition and annual Walk Like MADD events. Don has been married to his wife Kathy for 8 years. He has two stepdaughters and five grandchildren.
MADD is proud to recognize and honor Lieutenant Don Marose as its April Officer of the Month. We also thank him for his many years of service to the citizens of Minnesota. We wish Don the best for a long and happy retirement.
Strong drunk driving laws are key to saving lives. That is why we’re so grateful to our legislative partners who have championed MADD’s mission to end the No. 1 killer on our nation’s roads. It is why, each year, we honor lawmakers whose outstanding work has put us closer to a future of No More Victims.
These are MADD’s 2019 legislative heroes in Congress:
The RIDE and HALT Acts introduced in 2019 would require alcohol detection technology in all new vehicles.
Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan introduced legislation to require drunk driving prevention technology in all new vehicles days after the Jan. 6, 2019 drunk driving crash claimed the lives of an entire Northville family. Dingell proposed a more wide-ranging measure in September. The Honoring the Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate (HALT) Drunk Driving Act requires federal regulatory action by 2024 to install drunk driving prevention technology in all new vehicles. The HALT Act is named for the five members of the Abbas family killed in this unthinkable tragedy: Issam and Rima Abbas and their three children, Ali, 13, Isabella, 12, and Giselle, 7. Thanks to Rep. Dingell’s leadership and tenacity on this issue, there is now momentum behind taking action to require life-saving systems in all vehicles.
MADD meets with Rep. Nita Lowey, a 2019 MADD legislative champion for her work to end drunk driving.
Representative Nita Lowey of New York has worked for decades to end the 100 percent preventable crime of drunk driving. Throughout her career, she has been a genuine force in this ongoing fight, including championing the successful effort to establish a national standard of .08 BAC, which has saved thousands of lives. Recently, Rep. Lowey proposed legislation to encourage more states to pass laws requiring ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders. Thirty-four states, including New York, currently have these laws, which have prevented more than 3 million attempts to drive drunk in the last 12 years. Additionally, through her position as Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Lowey has worked to accelerate the development of in-vehicle technologies to prevent a drunk driver from operating a vehicle.
Senator Rick Scott of Florida introduced a bipartisan measure in October that could ultimately end drunk driving in America. The Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone (RIDE) Act by Sens. Scott and Tom Udall of New Mexico would require the installation of passive advanced drunk driving prevention technology in all new vehicles within four years. This technology would prevent a drunk driver from operating a vehicle and save 7,000 lives a year. Sen. Scott is also a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which is responsible for motor vehicle and highway safety programs and legislation. He has quickly emerged as a national legislative leader in the fight to eliminate drunk driving.
MADD has recognized Rep. Jan Schakowsky for a lifetime of work to end drunk driving.
Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois chaired a March 2019 hearing of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee that focused on the government-auto industry research program supported primarily by government funds for more than a decade. At that hearing, MADD National President Helen Witty challenged the auto industry to move drunk driving prevention technology development out of the research labs and make it available to consumers as soon as possible, where it could save as many as 7,000 lives a year. Rep. Schakowsky is committed to motor vehicle safety and a true advocate in the fight to end drunk driving.
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico has consistently taken a leadership role in the fight to reduce drunk driving, including leading efforts to provide funding for a research program to develop a passive system for preventing a drunk driver from operating a vehicle. Now Senator Udall is working with Senator Scott of Florida on bipartisan legislation that would take the results of that research out of the laboratory and make the technology standard equipment in all new vehicles, like many other life-saving safety systems. The Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone (RIDE) Act has the potential to save 7,000 lives a year and will add to Senator Udall’s legacy of advancing meaningful measures to save lives and prevent injuries.
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The State of Recruitment: A Crisis for Law Enforcement
Law enforcement agencies across the United States are struggling to recruit and hire police officers. Though agency-specific needs exist depending on size or locale, the difficulty with recruitment is a significant problem that is broadly affecting the field of law enforcement. This IACP resource provides an overview of recruitment by the numbers, discusses the factors driving the recruitment crisis and the impact on the profession, and identifies innovative approaches to recruitment. View the resource here.
MADD’s recently released Marijuana Survey Report on
Misconceptions about Marijuana Consumption and Driving
MADD’s 2020 Court Monitoring Report was recently released and can be found at this link. Of interest, nationally, the conviction rate is only 59% in the 15 states where MADD currently has court monitors. The report also lists state by state reports.
MADD National Law Enforcement Impaired Driving Summit Final Report
In November of 2018, MADD hosted a National Law Enforcement Impaired Driving Summit. Executive level law enforcement officers attended and discussed and identified barriers to strong impaired driving enforcement. This link will take you to the final report for the Summit which identifies those barriers and offers solutions to improve enforcement.