LANSING, MI (Dec. 10) – As the state of Michigan begins recreational cannabis sales, Responsibility.org is recognizing Michigan leaders for enacting proactive strategies to ensure their roads remain safe.
During a National Impaired Driving Prevention Month luncheon at Michigan’s state capitol, Responsibility.org honored Governor Gretchen Whitmer, State Senator Peter MacGregor and victims’ advocate Brian Swift who played instrumental roles in introducing and expanding legislation that provides Michigan law enforcement with added resources, as well as state-of-the-art roadside-testing tools to detect and deter drug-impaired driving.
Michigan’s bold law enforcement initiative began in 2017 as a pilot program in five counties. Based on the success of the initial program, it was expanded into a statewide effort in October 2019.
While oral fluid devices have been piloted in multiple jurisdictions and are utilized internationally, Michigan is the first state to pass pilot legislation. The measure provides law enforcement drug recognition experts (DREs) with the authority to require a driver to submit to a roadside oral fluid test obtained by a mouth swab that detects whether that person recently consumed cannabis or other drugs.
State leaders selected oral fluid tests because it is considered the most accurate, reliable and practical on-site drug-testing method available. The statewide expansion of the program represents the largest deployment of oral fluid devices in the United States to date.
“According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk driving decreased by 4 percent from 2017 to 2018 and accounts for lowest proportion of traffic fatalities since record keeping began. While we continue the fight to save lives lost to drunk driving, drug-impaired driving is a serious and growing problem as more fatally injured drivers now test positive for drugs than test positive for alcohol. Data from states that have legalized cannabis, such as Washington, also reveal that polysubstance-impaired driving is on the rise and represents a critical threat on our roadways,” said Chris Swonger, president and CEO of the Distilled Sprits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and Responsibility.org.
“Not only did Michigan state leaders recognize this, they proactively provided law enforcement with added resources and tools to tackle the drug-impaired driving epidemic head on before recreational cannabis sales began. Michigan’s model is one that other states can learn from as DUID affects every community in the country.”
Sadly, driving under the influence of drugs has become strikingly common in the U.S. In fact, a 2019 AAA study found that during a one-month period, 15 million Americans got behind the wheel within an hour of using cannabis. Furthermore, the Governors Highway Safety Association found 44 percent of drivers who were killed in a crash in 2016 who were tested for drugs had positive results, which was up from 28 percent a decade earlier. And in Michigan, drug-impaired drivers killed 247 people on the state’s roads and highways in 2018, which was a steady increase compared to previous years.
“Law enforcement are on the frontlines of our roadways and it’s important that they have access to tools to keep communities safe, especially with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use in our state,” said Michigan State Senate Majority Floor Leader Peter MacGregor. “More than two years ago, the Michigan legislature saw the need for a first-of-its-kind initiative, putting roadside drug testing tools in the hands of officers so that they can help detect and deter drug-impaired drivers. This pilot program is one that has the potential to save lives across the state of Michigan.”
One of the tools Michigan State Police are using is SoToxa, made by healthcare company Abbott. The portable device, which uses a simple saliva swab inserted into a handheld analyzer, alerts police within five minutes as to whether the driver has recently used cannabis or other drugs. This form of roadside testing can help law enforcement officers build strong impaired driving investigations.
“Here in Michigan and around the world, communities are grappling with how to keep their roadways safe as certain drugs become legalized and decriminalized,” said Brian Swift, whose parents were killed by a drug-impaired driver in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 2013 and whose lobbying efforts spearheaded the Michigan oral fluid legislation to test drivers at the roadside. “Political leaders in Michigan deserve a great deal of credit for recognizing the threat of increased drug-related fatalities on the roads and outfitting their police with life-saving technologies to keep their citizens safe and secure.”
Echoing Swift’s sentiments, Heather Drake, AAA vice president of government relations and public affairs, emphasized AAA’s ongoing support for such efforts in Michigan: “AAA is supportive of all measures to prevent impaired driving, including the practice of oral fluid drug screening. We applaud the state for its efforts to implement significant policy to help keep Michigan roadways safe from all forms of impaired driving by equipping our law enforcement community with the necessary tools.”