It might be legal to smoke cannabis in Canada come October, but it will not be legal to drive high. You’ve probably seen advertisements from your province proclaiming the dangers of driving high and announcing crackdowns. So, how exactly will police test for driving high?

The government has been working on this all year. With the October 17 legalization date growing closer, the Canadian government needed to find a way to objectively test for drug impairment in drivers. Until now, officers have used standardized field sobriety tests to detect drug-impaired driving. These tests are completely subjective; they don’t definitively prove if someone has been driving under the influence of drugs.

What is the Dräger?

The Canadian government needed a reliable roadside drug test for the RCMP. They’ve chosen to use the Dräger DrugTest 5000 for roadside drug testing. This roadside test is already being used in Germany, Australia, the U.K., and some U.S. states.

The Dräger test uses a saliva sample to test for the presence of drugs. In the case of cannabis, it tests for THC, the main psychoactive ingredient. Once collected, the sample is inserted in to the device to be analyzed. It can be used to test substances other than cannabis, including:

  • Opiates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamines

While it sounds great on the surface, there are some major problems with the device that have Canadians worried. 


Shortcomings of the Dräger Drug Test

1. It’s Very Slow

First, these tests are very time consuming. The driver has to orally swab for four minutes to collect a usable sample. The sample is then inserted in to the device, and you have to wait another ten minutes for the Dräger to analyze the results. Drivers could be spending more than fifteen minutes at a roadside stop just to test for impairment.

The subject cannot consume anything before using the Dräger. This means they cannot eat, drink, or smoke within ten minutes of the test, or the results will be compromised. This would add more time to an already lengthy roadside stop, because officers need to wait for this period to elapse.

2. It Needs Perfect Conditions

Environment also has a big effect on the Dräger system. If the device isn’t in a stable environment, test results can be skewed. A tilt of ten degrees can alter the accuracy of the test. Perfect conditions cannot be guaranteed in a roadside test, meaning the Dräger’s results are likely to be inaccurate.

3. It Doesn’t Work in the Cold

The Dräger DrugTest 5000 is also severely affected by temperature. It operates in temperatures from 4 to 40 degrees Celsius (39.2 -104 degrees Fahrenheit). This renders the device unreliable for several months in Canada, where most of the year is below those temperatures. Police are left, then, with untrustworthy results or a device that may be completely unusable for a majority of the year.

4. It’s Not Fully Reliable

Most importantly, the results of the Dräger aren’t entirely reliable. A study from the Journal of Analytical Toxicology found that the Dräger “did not absolutely correctly identify DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) offenders due to fairly large proportions of false-positive or false-negative results compared to drug concentrations in blood.”

So, exactly how inaccurate is the device? The  study reported that the number of false-positive results was 14.5 percent, while the number of false-negatives was reported at 13.5 percent.

5. It Tests Levels, Not Impairment

Another issue is that the device doesn’t test impairment; it only detects the presence of drugs. This is unlike roadside blood alcohol tests that allow a certain limit of alcohol to be in your system before it’s deemed as impairment.


Why Use The Dräger DrugTest 5000 if it’s so Flawed?

Police need a more objective way to test people they believe are driving high. And while it is far from perfect, the Dräger does provide police the opportunity to perform roadside drug tests. 

All we can do for now is see how it plays out in practice in the coming months, and hope someone can develop a better tool for roadside impairment tests in the near future.