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Stop and Drop

An article in the Insurance Journal reports on a program in Alabama to test drivers for drugs and alcohol that isn’t directed at arresting anyone. The program had roadblocks set up in St. Clair and Bibb counties to pull everyone over. Drivers were then asked if they would participate in tests of their saliva and/or blood. If they agreed, they were paid $10 for a mouth swab and $50 for a blood sample.

The purpose of the program, run by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation under the umbrella of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is to gather data on what substances drivers have in their systems – both legal and illegal. Both alcohol and prescription drugs were part of the test.

This kind of data is important, even when no arrests are made. By establishing a background level of usage, it’s possible to track trends in drug and alcohol use. Participating drivers may not be so impaired that their driving is adversely affected, but any substances in their systems will still show up.

Those that don’t want to give samples are allowed to leave with no penalty. Off duty officers were used to direct traffic and assist for safety reasons.

The data collected can also be used by law enforcement because resources can be targeted better when usage patterns are understood. With the rise in prescription drug abuse, for example, more attention can be paid to sources of pills. If alcohol is more of a problem in an area, attention might shift toward “watering holes” instead.

While police generally do not have access to sophisticated testing, mouth swabs and blood samples can be collected and used as evidence in court. Should a pattern emerge where new tests might be helpful to police, the data gathered here would be used to support a funding request so police can get the tools they need.


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