Law enforcement in California is poised to use a new technology in the New Year in order to catch and prosecute DWI drivers. NBC Los Angeles is reporting that a state grant in California is allowing officers to expand their use of swab testing at DWI checkpoint and at jails in order to test DWI suspects for the presence of drugs in their system. Law enforcement in the state have noted that they have seen an increased number of drivers operating vehicles under the influence of marijuana and other drugs recently. A person who drives while impaired by illegal, prescription or over-the-counter drugs can be charged with DWI in California as well as New Hampshire.
With drug impaired driving at an all time high, police feel they need a way to recognize and prosecute these drivers. Using a swab test is recognized as being a quick and easy way for law enforcement to detect the presence of drugs in a suspect's system. The swab test works by placing an absorbent cotton swab in the suspect's mouth. The swab absorbs a sample of saliva and then removed from the mouth. The swab is then taken to a laboratory and compared with samples of known drugs to see if any drug substances were present in the suspect's mouth. The idea behind this is the person who consumes drugs has a trace of the drug in their body that can be detected in their saliva.
Swab tests are a commonly used method of testing drug use in the business sector. Many employers use random swab tests to check their employees for the presence of drugs in their system. The idea behind this is the person who consumes drugs orally will have since in their saliva. However trace amounts of the drug can also remain any person's system and, therefore, their saliva for several days after consumption. This means that someone who consumes marijuana several days before driving will test positive on a DWI swab test for marijuana even if they were not impaired at all while operating the vehicle. With the swab test, as with other drug testing methods, there is no way to isolate which drugs were consumed right before driving.
California lawmakers are very concerned about the rising numbers of drug impaired drivers on their roads. It was announced that so far 1,500 people have been arrested for suspicion of DWI this winter in Los Angeles County alone. NBC News states that:
Officials said drunken driving increases more than 80 percent during the holidays and they hope the new technology will discourage impaired drivers from taking the road.
In addition, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have noted that DWI deaths have gone up 5% in the past year. Using the swab testing is a cheaper alternative than blood or hair testing but it is not advanced enough to determine exactly when the drugs were consumed. Because of ease of use and cost, the use of swabs may become more and more common in DWI testing. So far, New Hampshire has not adopted the use of these swabs, but success in California could mean changes in the future.