Roadside surveys are set to begin around B.C. this month to continue a research project that tests for marijuana, cocaine and other drugs as well as alcohol use by drivers.
The B.C. government is spending up to $250,000 for the seventh survey of its kind in the province, part of a national program run by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Previous surveys have shown that in random samples, about 10 per cent of drivers test positive for alcohol and seven to eight per cent have a detectable level of drugs in their systems.
This year’s survey is being done in the same communities as the last one in 2010: Vancouver, Saanich, Abbotsford, Prince George and Kelowna.
The roadside surveys are supervised by police and use hand-held breathalyzers, but they are for information only and won’t result in charges or suspensions. Drivers are asked to voluntarily and confidentially answer questions, provide a breath sample and also a saliva sample using a plastic stick with an absorbent pad on the end.
Saliva samples are sent for lab analysis to detect marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other opiates, amphetamines and common sedatives. The test doesn’t determine if the driver was impaired by drugs, but only if there is a level detectable by the lab test.
Ottawa passed legislation in 2008 to give police authority to demand physical sobriety tests and collect blood, urine or saliva samples for drug testing, but no roadside test or legal limits currently exist for drug impairment. B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said police do have options.
“Police can issue a 24-hour prohibition at the roadside if they suspect drug impairment,” Bond said. “They can also take the driver into custody, so trained, certified police officers can conduct a very accurate drug recognition and evaluation exam and ask for blood tests to support Criminal Code charges.”
The surveys found that while alcohol use increases late at night and on weekends, drug use by drivers is more consistently found at all times and days.
The surveys were extended to Prince George and Kelowna for the first time in 2010, and the survey company found drivers more likely to agree to the interview and samples than those in the Lower Mainland.
Of the 2,480 vehicles selected for testing in 2010, 86 per cent of drivers provided a breath sample and 71 per cent agreed to give a sample of oral fluid.