…the device that Carol Stream police plan to test, called P.I.A.2 , gives measurements for the amount of drugs present.
That’s important, because while Illinois used to define impairment as having any amount of cannabis or other controlled substance in the body, last year lawmakers raised that minimum threshold to 5 nanograms per milliliter in the blood, and 10 ng/mL in other bodily fluids.
But the Illinois State Police crime laboratory is not certified to give such precise measurements, and local police agencies say it can take months to process a request. Therefore, police sometimes send samples to private labs, which can be quicker but also costlier.
That’s where the new field test comes in. For drivers who submit to a blood draw, Carol Stream police plan to ask them also to volunteer for the mouth swab, not for use in court, but simply to compare its accuracy to the lab test. The department plans to conduct at least 100 comparisons over the next year, beginning around March.
Testing devices can cost $3,000 to $6,000, but the manufacturer of the unit in question, a German company called Protzek, will provide it for free to the village. Officials claim its accuracy is comparable to state-of-the-art laboratory techniques.
Len Jonker, president of Judicial Testing Systems, the distributor for Protzek here, said he is in talks about supplying the device to other law enforcement agencies in Illinois as well.
The tests have been challenged in some state courts but have been upheld as a preliminary step to establish probable cause to make an arrest, according to the National District Attorneys Association.
Still, the tests cannot yet be used as conclusive evidence in court, and still require a blood draw for confirmation, the prosecutors reported.
Dan Linn, executive director of the marijuana advocacy group Illinois NORML, said he welcomes the test for accuracy.
“We advocate for legalizing cannabis, but that does not mean we advocate people driving impaired by cannabis,” he said. “The bigger question is, who is driving impaired, and who just has cannabis in their systems.”
Illinois law has zero tolerance for driving on controlled substances other than marijuana, meaning any amount is enough to convict someone of DUI.
Yet unlike alcohol, which has been shown to cause impairment at a blood alcohol level of 0.08, no numeric levels have been established to show impairment from various drugs, because their effects vary so widely from person to person, depending in part on the user’s tolerance.
That’s why Linn believes it’s better to have trained police officers try to assess from direct observations whether a driver is impaired.
Police and prosecutors agree, and for that reason call for more training of officers as drug recognition experts, or DREs. While the standard field sobriety test — where drivers are asked to walk in a straight line and turn around, stand on one leg and close their eyes and touch their nose — was designed primarily to detect the influence of alcohol, the DRE test uses more subtle signs to try to detect drugs.
Dilated or constricted pupils, incomplete or repetitive speech, tremors in the eyelids or hands, odors, high pulse or body temperature, nervousness or lack of inhibition may all be considered signs of impairment from various drugs.
Processing a DUI arrest is time-consuming, and the new law that set the cannabis intoxication standard on driving under the influence states that police must take a blood sample within two hours. Police say that’s often impractical or impossible, especially in rural areas far from a hospital.
That’s why interest is so high in finding a quick technological fix.