Law inspired by Escanaba couple to allow roadside drug testing signed by governor

Sen. Tom Casperson

Sen. Tom Casperson

LANSING, Mich. — The Barbara J. and Thomas J. Swift Law was recently signed to create a one-year pilot program that will allow trained law enforcement officers to administer a saliva test to drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs.

“This is common sense legislation that empowers our law enforcement officials to conduct roadside tests for drugs so we can help make Michigan’s roads safer,” said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, sponsor of Senate Bill 434.

Under Casperson’s bill and SB 207, now Public Acts 243 and 242 of 2016, trained Michigan State Police troopers will be permitted to test suspected drugged drivers with a preliminary oral fluid test.

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.

The analysis would only take place during routine traffic encounters where driver impairment is detected. The police would still need a valid reason to make a traffic stop, exactly as they do when someone is suspected of operating under the influence of alcohol. As such, sobriety checkpoints remain illegal in the state of Michigan.

The pilot program will begin in five yet-to-be-selected counties and will be used to help determine the accuracy and reliability of this new drug testing technology. If the pilots prove the testing results to be scientifically reliable, roadside drug testing would then be expanded throughout the state in the same fashion that roadside alcohol testing has come to be reliably used by law enforcement for over two decades.

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