Driving Just Got a Little Safer – Thanks to This Device

A new testing kit aims to keep us safe from cocaine-impaired drivers.

Steve saw the flashing lights in the mirror; his heart skipped a beat.

He was on his way home from his friend’s house, where he and three others spent the afternoon shooting cocaine. “Just play it cool,” he told himself. “You’ve faked your way through family parties when you were wired. You can fool this cop. Besides, it’s not like I’m drunk. They can’t just give me a test and haul me off to jail.”

The officer approached Steve’s window. Steve had his license and registration ready. “Hey there,” the cop said. “I noticed you’re having a little trouble staying in your lane.” He returned to his patrol car with Steve’s information, and came back moments later with something else in his hands. Steve acted calm and casual, but his demeanor couldn’t hide those telltale bloodshot eyes, grinding jaw and wide pupils.

To Steve’s dismay, the officer explained he was holding a brand new roadside test for cocaine. “Well,” Steve thought, “looks like I was wrong about that test.”

Bringing the Lab to the Streets

While police officers have used roadside tests for cocaine in the past, a newly developed device offers more accurate results. The older kits didn’t indicate how much cocaine a driver used, and they often gave false results. In roughly five percent of cases, the test showed positive – even though the person hadn’t used any cocaine. That’s a pretty small percentage, but I wouldn’t want to be one of those five percent, would you?

The new device uses saliva, as previous kits did. However, it offers a dual analysis that does a better job of determining if cocaine is present. The technique involves a mass spectrometry approach to detect drugs in body fluids. This kind of rigorous testing was only possible in labs – until now. Scientists successfully miniaturized the process to create a new portable roadside test.

Each new device costs over $37,000, and that’s a huge hike from the previous price of $6 per test kit. While somewhat steep, the new cost is about a tenth of the price of lab-based systems used for this kind of testing. Plus, developers note that within a year “the number of tests that you would carry out would pay for itself.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse tells us 10 million people reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs in 2013 (and that’s just the ones who were willing to admit it.) Scientists hope this new development can help to curb this dangerous situation. The goal is to provide law enforcement officials with accurate and easy-to-use tools that help keep our roads safe. Steve might not like it, but it’s safe to say the drivers sharing the road with him will certainly appreciate making it home accident-free.

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