Marijuana breath test could help police fight drugged driving

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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The University of Pittsburgh researchers say theirs is effective because of its size, lower cost and flexibility.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

New technology could help law enforcement fight back against drugged driving.

This comes with changes in marijuana laws: medical marijuana is now legal in Ohio; other states have legalized recreational pot; and possession of small amounts of pot is no longer a crime in the city of Dayton.

A focus now is on keeping people who are high out of the driver’s seat. From TV ads to billboards, the warnings are all over about drugged driving.

“If you feel different, you drive different. Drive high, get a DUI,” is one public safety announcement.

According to Ohio State Highway Patrol records, between 2016 and Tuesday, marijuana represented nearly 13% of operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI) arrests in Ohio.

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Out of that push to keep high drivers off the roads is a small, portable device, made on a 3-D printer.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh said it could be a game-changer.

“As soon as it’s turned on it will start going through the sequence of the measurements,” Alex Star of the University of Pittsburgh said.

It’s been tested on one person, and it worked. But because of federal regulations, researchers have to test it with a machine blowing the THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

“So first it will initialize,” Star said of the device, “and it’ll indicate to the user when to start blowing.”

Within seconds, the message pops up that THC is present, and how much.

“I think this device is going to take away that guessing,” Star said. “So you don’t just rely on human observation but there will also be some scientific data to support that observation.”

The device is just one of several in testing right now.

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The University of Pittsburgh researchers say theirs is effective because of its size, lower cost and flexibility.

“If you want to do alcohol testing versus THC you just really swap the mouthpiece and move forward. It can be used for both,” said Eric Sejdic, engineering PhD at the University of Pittsburgh.

The next step is more testing, and more testing with people, which is something that could take months for federal approval.

“We were more working on this to make the roads safer than anything else,” Sejdic said. “Any level of impairment is dangerous, not just to the driver but to all of us.”

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