Swedes Created Breathalyzer that Detects Drugs

A recent advancement in the technology used for Breathalyzers may benefit the state of Colorado in preventing substance abuse related accidents. Colorado has seen its fair share of drunk driving and the recent passing of Amendment 64 has made people question the safety and legality of drivers under the influence of marijuana.

Apparently Switzerland has a high rate of substance related accidents as well, which promoted them to create a new device that can detect 12 different substances including the most commonly abused drugs such as marijuana, morphine, crystal meth, cocaine and heroin. Currently the process and enforcement mechanisms behind testing drivers for drugs other than alcohol have been limited at best. Testing for substances require blood and urine samples – which police can’t conduct roadside.

The Swedish designed Breathalyzer was tested on 47 patients in an addiction clinic and was able to detect drugs with an accuracy rate of 87% – which is in line with the accuracy rate of most urine and blood tests. One drawback of the device is that it was able to pick up on the use of substances 24 hours after they were reportedly used. Therefore the level of substances and determination if one is “under the influence” at the time they are suspected cannot be accurately detected. According to the lead of the study published in the Journal of Breath Research, Professor Olof Beck, future studies can be refined to correlate the breath with actual concentrations of the drugs.

In this way, law enforcement could use the Breathalyzer preliminarily at the scene and then later confirm it by urine and blood tests. While this seems viable, a lot of regulations would be required – such as determining the levels of drugs that would be deemed “over the limit” according to the height, weight, history of use, developed tolerance and gender of the suspect. Prosecution and enforcement would be difficult as DWI and DUI defense attorneys would have a field day with the amount of indeterminate factors of what is “over the limit” for each substance. But considering and fine tuning this option in the future seems increasingly important as the Center for Disease Control reports that the aforementioned drugs are involved in roughly 18% of fatal car crashes.

New Phone App to Report Drunk Drivers

A blog post earlier this month exhibited the rate of drunk driving in Colorado and the volume of DUI arrests on New Years Eve alone in the state. Drunk driving is an extensive problem, causing over 10,000 deaths in the US each year.

That is why several states have augmented their campaigns calling upon the public to report drivers whom they suspect to be drunk. To hone in on this point, the DUI Foundation states, “Witnessing a drunk driver entering a vehicle, or seeing a possible drunk driver passing you on the roadway and not making the effort to report the incident is tantamount to refusing to call for help after seeing a loaded gun pointed at someone’s head.“

Reporting suspects and getting drunk drivers off the road undoubtedly saves lives and authorities say that thousands of drunk drivers are intervened upon through anonymous tips. Because of this success, states have enacted laws and programs to reduce the large percentage of alcohol related deaths through citizen reporting campaigns. These campaigns ordain specific community members to report suspected DUI offenders in their neighborhoods and call upon the public writ large to report those exhibiting signs of impairment. For example, according to the Colorado State Patrol, impaired drivers are those who are:

1. Appearing to be drunk (e.g. eye fixation, face close to windshield, drinking in the vehicle.)
2. Turning with a wide radius
3. Almost striking an object or car
4. Weaving, swerving or drifting
5. Driving significantly under the speed limit for no obvious reason
6. Braking erratically or stopping without cause
7. Accelerating rapidly
8. Tailgating
9. Straddling the center of the lane or driving with the left tires on the center line
10. Responding slowly to traffic signals
11. Turning abruptly or illegally
12. Driving at night with headlights off

If you see someone driving like this in Colorado, the State Patrol encourages you to call Star-DUI (*384) or Star-CSP (*277). However, if these signs are evident it is not always easy to catch the license plate number without risking your own driving by not paying attention to the road. That is why Frank Vahid, a computer science professor at the University of California, Riverside created an Android phone application called “DuiCam” that makes it easier to report drunk drivers.

The application is free and has already had over 1000 downloads. Vahid has observed and reported numerous drunk drivers and drunk driving accidents – often to no avail because he wasn’t able to get the full license plate numbers. “That’s why I was thinking it would be helpful to have a device that’s always recording what’s in front of the car” he said – and the DuiCam does exactly that. To use the application, Drivers mount the phones on the front of their cars when they see a driver that may be under the influence. After they capture a video of the car they can replay it and zoom in on the license plates and report the information to the police. The application can be found and downloaded at DuiCam.org.

A lofty percentage of those who drive while impaired have alcohol dependency or suffer from alcoholism. If you are concerned for your own or a loved one’s alcohol consumption or impaired driving, Harmony Foundation has alcoholism treatment in Colorado that can help.

Driving Drunk into the New Year in Colorado

The Atlantic reported last week on drunk driving throughout the US by looking at the rates of fatal car crashes between 2001 and 2010 for the 25 most populated cities. Surprisingly, Colorado had some of the highest rates. In Denver, CO 54.2 % of fatal car accidents involved intoxication making it the only major US city where more than half fall into this category. Looking at less populated cities, both Colorado Springs and Lakewood were among the highest in which fatal crashes involved alcohol more often than not with 54.1% and 52.5% respectively.

This report came out just after New Years Day when the Denver Post reported that 81 people across the state started their New Year off with an arrest for driving under the influence. However, Col. James Woldinbarger the chief of the Colorado State Patrol stated “Fortunately, none of our Troopers had to knock on a door during the holiday weekend to tell a family that one of their loved ones was killed in a drunk-driving crash” and added, “On behalf of all Coloradans and those who use our roadways, please make the resolutions to plan ahead, designate a sober driver, and never drink and drive.”

Colorado has stricter laws on drunk driving compared to other states, including an implied consent law. This means that if someone refuses to submit a chemical test (i.e. breathalyzer or other), they are subject to an automatic license suspension of a year and fines up to $1000. For a first time drunk driving conviction an offender faces up to a year in prison, a 9-month suspension of their license and fines also up to $1000. Colorado also has a special law called “Driving While Ability Impaired” or DWAI that makes it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05% whereas most states prohibits people from driving with a BAC of 0.08% and above. And all these convictions get exceedingly more stringent with multiple offenses.

Hopefully a combination of personal New Year’s resolutions to plan ahead, as Col. Woldinbarger suggested, and the strict DUI laws across the state will put a dent in the high rate of drunk driving across the state. Often, when an offender seeks treatment for alcoholism in Colorado they are able get their sentencing reduced. A large percentage of those convicted of drunk driving have alcohol dependency issues and use their conviction as a wake up call and begin to address their drinking problem. If you have been convicted of a DUI or are concerned about your drunk driving and alcohol consumption, Harmony Foundation is Estes Park, CO offers affordable alcohol treatment  in a private environment.