It looks like a new roadside testing device is about to hit our roadways come October, but this one won’t be screening for alcohol.
The Draeger DrugTest 5000 is set to become the first approved drug-screening device to be used by Canadian police forces.
Based on the advice of an independent committee of toxicologists and traffic safety experts, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has given a 30-day notice of ministerial order to approve the device for use.
An opportunity for the public to weigh in follows the notice, but assuming everything goes smoothly, the device will be approved for use as soon as Bill C-46 becomes enforceable law on October 17.
This marks the very first time in Canadian history that a roadside screening device will be used to detect the presence of drugs in drivers.
Prior to this, officers were limited to conducting standardized field sobriety testing in order to form grounds to detain and arrest a driver for drug-impaired driving. These tests, while extremely subjective and often problematic in their own right, have been around for decades—and that won’t change on October 17.
Standardized field sobriety tests will still be available for officers to use in the course of impaired-driving investigations. However, they will also have the Draeger DrugTest 5000 at their disposal.
This device should—theoretically—streamline the process of detecting drugs on the roadside.
It should provide an objective basis for determining whether or not a driver has drugs in their body at the time of testing. It should be much easier for police officers to implement and provide more assurance to drivers that their results, unlike field testing, are not subject to officer discretion.
But that doesn’t mean it will.
The selection of this particular device is a curious one off the bat. The Draeger DrugTest 5000 was not used in any of the pilot projects that were conducted on roadside drug testing devices by the RCMP and Public Safety Canada over the last year.
So what do we know?
The Draeger is produced and manufactured in Germany and it is being used by law enforcement officials in that country, as well as in the U.K. and Australia. It’s also being used in some U.S. states, such as New York and Arizona.
It’s also a bulky device. It doesn’t look anything like the alcohol-breath testing devices we have become so accustomed to at police roadblocks. The Draeger resembles a Keurig coffeemaker, but it carries a much heftier price tag—each device costs around $6,000.
Like other roadside drug testing devices, the Draeger uses saliva samples to tests for the presence of drugs.
This particular device requires that the subject swab the inside of their mouth for about four minutes in order to collect an adequate sample. Once the sample has been collected, it needs to be inserted into the device, where analysis takes place. The results will be listed on the device display.
The Draeger tests for range of substances. It can detect cannabis, opiates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines.
It is boasted as being accurate and reliable.
But the device also has some significant limitations.
For example, if a subject eats, drinks, or smokes within 10 minutes of the test being performed, results can be compromised. This means that police officers will have to abide by particular protocols, and drivers will have to be truthful about the events leading up to the traffic stop, in order for results to be reliable.
Unfortunately, these two factors do not always occur.
Another significant limitation is the environment. If the device isn’t in a controlled and stable environment, tests can also be affected. A tilt of 10 degrees or more can affect the accuracy of results.
Consider how things could go wrong when testing is occurring on the roadside, in an uncontrolled and often chaotic environment.
But perhaps the most concerning restriction for the Draeger DrugTest 5000 has to do with temperature. The device has an operating temperature range between 4° and 40° C. While the manufacturer assures that the device will not be affected by outdoor temperatures, as it regulates its own internal temperature, this limitation has caused problems in some geographical areas in the past.
In 2017, the device proved to be a problem for police forces in Ireland, where the device was not found to be suitable for roadside use in temperatures under 4° C. Officers were forced to detain drivers—and bring them back to police stations—so that they could undergo testing indoors.
When you consider that the vast majority of Canada experiences temperatures well below freezing for at least six months of the year, it is difficult to understand how this device will work effectively in such a unique and challenging environment.
Perhaps the biggest limitation of the device, though, is that it cannot detect for impairment.
The Draeger can only detect the presence of drugs in the oral fluid…and nothing else.
This means that even drivers who are not affected by drugs may be ultimately detained, investigated, and charged with impaired driving if the device detects the simple presence of a drug and generates a positive result for it.
This comes with significant concerns about individual liberties and charter rights in this country.
So, while the Draeger DrugTest 5000 is advertised as making drug testing “safe, easy and hygienic”, the reality of roadside drug testing may not quite measure up.