Roadside Drug Testing in Kentucky

December 11th, 2015 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Police departments in Kentucky are testing a kit for detecting drug use by drivers. The hope is that such a kit could become a kind of “breathalyzer” (a device measuring blood alcohol content) to be used for drivers believed to be driving while impaired by drugs. The technology is new and untested in Kentucky, but anything that would discourage a person from driving under the influence of drugs would make our roads safer.

The Kentucky State Police estimates drugs were a factor in nearly 1,600 traffic accidents statewide last year, causing 939 injuries and 214 deaths, according to the Courier Journal. A nationwide survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 and 2014 found that more than 22% of drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs, all of which could impair driving.

How a driver is affected by drug use depends on the type of drug used and the amount, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A driver could have slower reaction time, impaired judgment of time and distance, become less coordinated or more aggressive or reckless. A driver could also become dizzy, drowsy or distracted.

The state Office of Highway Safety is working with police departments in Louisville, Paducah and Madison County, trying out 100 portable drug test kits on volunteers to see if they are reliable and accurate. If the kits prove useful, the state legislature may approve wider use by police.

The kits contain a mouth swab and screening device that analyzes saliva for evidence of use of up to ten drugs. The results could give a police officer more evidence of impairment, which could lead to a field sobriety test or an arrest.

Criminal defense attorneys see the kits as unreliable and inaccurate, possibly leading to unfounded investigations, invasive searches and arrests. Since the kits are new, state courts haven’t ruled on whether results can be used by police as a basis for further tests, searches or arrests. The results of the tests, if accurate, only indicate whether a person has evidence of drug use in their saliva. The kits don’t show whether the driver is actually impaired by the drugs.

The kits and electronic devices to test for drug use are being used in California, and the results are being used as evidence in courts there. Proponents of the kits state that with this evidence more defendants are pleading guilty to charges, not contesting them, saving the state money.

While it’s uncertain if or how the results of one of these kits can be used as evidence in a criminal case here, if they raise awareness of drugged driving or discourage someone from getting behind the wheel after getting high, then it’s an effort worth making.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a motor car wreck or truck accident involving a driver under the influence of drugs, contact our office so we can talk about what happened, the applicable laws and your best options for obtaining compensation for your injuries, property damage and economic losses.