Thursday, June 26, 2014

Discouraging “Drugging and Driving”: Canada’s new marijuana breathalyzer

From: Voxxi

Just like they use a Breathalyzer to detect alcohol-impaired drivers, law enforcement may soon be using a marijuana breathalyzer to determine if drivers have been using the drug.

Former British Columbia RCMP officer Kal Malhi and Dr. Raj Attariwala invented the new device, which is officially called the Cannabix Breathalyzer. They hope it will catch on in their country as well as in the U.S., since police officers currently have to rely on blood, urine, or saliva samples to accurately determine whether a driver has been smoking.

The marijuana detector comes in the wake of studies showing that driving while under the influence of marijuana can impair motor skills and automated tasks as well as lengthen reaction time.

Changing attitudes
Malhi argues that law enforcement needs a marijuana breathalyzer in order to emphasize the seriousness of “drugging and driving” to the public.

Speaking to CTV Vancouver, the former officer, who was a member of the drug enforcement division for 10 years, explained his rationale for the device: “People are becoming very afraid to drink and drive nowadays because they feel that they will get caught and charged, but they’re not afraid to drug and drive because they don’t feel that law enforcement will do anything about it.”

That attitude is fostered, in part, by the tests that are currently in place for marijuana impairment in both Canada and the U.S. Law enforcement first relies on field sobriety tests, which only catch those who are grossly impaired, and then has to rely on bodily fluid tests, which only show that a person has used marijuana within the last 48 hours.

The marijuana breathalyzer, by comparison, is designed to show whether a driver has used the drug within the last two hours.

U.S. initiatives

While lax attitudes among Canadians have Malhi and Attariwala concerned, officials in the U.S., especially in Colorado and Washington state, are also looking for ways to combat marijuana-impaired drivers.

Colorado’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) highway safety manager, Glenn Davis, said that he’d be interested in implementing the Cannabix Breathalyzer in his state if it receives a patent: “We would look at any type of technology to help us with our challenges.”

The state has increased its officer training since the legalization of marijuana, aiming to educate law enforcement on how to detect drug use by way of field sobriety tests. CDOT has also started the “Drive High, Get a DUI Campaign” to raise public awareness of the legal implications associated with drugging and driving.

Marijuana’s effects on driving

According to several studies reported in the NY Times, a measureable amount of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in the bloodstream double the risk of a driving accident.

Dr. Huestis, a senior researcher at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said that stoned drivers struggle to either multi-task or deal with the unexpected. Building on that, a study published in the B.C. Medical Journal showed “clear evidence” that marijuana impairs skills such as tracking—staying within a lane—or paying attention to the speedometer. Interestingly, while drivers who drink are more likely to speed, drivers who smoke are more likely to drive far too slowly for safety.

Dr. Attariwala sees those detrimental effects firsthand: the doctor told CTV that the “biggest wrecks that come through (a) hospital” relate to impaired driving. While that’s a broad category, he argues that the marijuana detector will help decrease the number of accidents by deterring drugging and driving.

Malhi plans to present the Cannabix Breathalyzer to Canadian officials within the next 18 months.