Roadside surveys, including in Saanich, will help research into drugged driving

Drivers being tested for drugs and alcohol in roadside surveys

Drivers are now being asked to voluntarily provide a saliva sample at police checkpoints in Saanich, as part of research into drug-impaired driving.

“The effort is to try and determine the volume of people that drive while impaired by drugs,” said Victoria police Chief Const. Jamie Graham. “It will help fuel further research efforts, support current and future legislative changes and focus public attention to where there are real dangers.”

Roadside surveys are taking place in Saanich, Vancouver, Abbotsford, Prince George and Kelowna, the same cities chosen for a similar survey in 2010.

When drivers are stopped, they will be asked to voluntarily and confidentially answer questions and provide a breath sample, as well as a saliva sample, with a swab stick. The swabs will go to a lab to be tested for detectable levels of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other opiates, amphetamines and common sedatives.

Drivers who later test positive for drugs, and those who fail a roadside breath test for alcohol consumption will not be penalized, Graham said.

Tabulating the number of drivers who drive with drugs in their system will help provide government and police bodies with a clearer understanding of drug-impaired driving, he added.

“The last survey they did, the numbers of people who were drug-impaired was fairly close to those who were alcohol-impaired. It was a shocker to most of us.”

Previous surveys found that while alcohol use increases late at night and on weekends, drug use by drivers is more consistently found at all times throughout the week.

In random survey samples, about 10 per cent of drivers tested positive for alcohol, and seven to eight per cent had a detectable level of drugs in their systems.

The survey results will also help drive efforts to develop roadside drug tests, the chief said. There is still is no such device.

Currently, police can penalize suspected drug-impaired drivers with a 24-hour driving suspension, and have them undergo a complex serious of tests.

“It’s a brutally long process and it’s the best we have right now, and we know we can do better,” Graham said. “This is all about public safety, in terms of getting behind the wheel when you’re high.”

For that reason the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police’s Traffic Safety Commission, which Graham chairs, is now discussing the merits of encouraging the scientific community to develop a handheld testing device.

The $250,000 government-funded blitz of roadside surveys is the seventh in B.C., part of an initiative spearheaded by the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles and ICBC.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

emccracken@vicnews.com