Driving High: Police are testing a device that detects drugs in minutes

Police in suburban Chicago are leading the charge to find a device they can use to test drivers who might be high.

Police departments say the prospect of recreational marijuana legalization is putting their efforts to find a device into overdrive.

For years, alcohol was the main target of traffic stops. But now, officers' attention is turning towards drugs.

“We're behind the eight ball. The state right now as a whole is woefully unprepared for recreational marijuana to hit the streets,” said Sergeant Brian Cluever of the Traffic Investigation Division.

For some who wear the uniform, coming up with a new way of policing pot is personal. Illinois State Trooper Christopher Lambert was killed during a January snowstorm, helping a stranded driver on I-294. Authorities allege the man who hit him, 61-year-old Scott Larson, had cannabis in his system.

“People need to understand that if you feel different, you drive different,” Cluever said.

Police in west suburban Carol Stream are leading the charge in the goal to develop a drug test that’s similar to a near-instant breathalyzer for alcohol. A state grant got the ball rolling and led them to a new state of the art testing device, which is now in the experimental phase.

“We were approached by this company out of Germany that had actually provided us with kits,” Cluever said.

Here’s how it works.

“The device is actually great because there's no electronics with it...it's all self-contained...it's in a sealed package,” Cluever said. “You take out a swab and you have the person put it inside their mouth underneath their tongue and it soaks up the saliva for...now it takes 5 minutes, we're hoping it will be down to 2 in the near future. It'll collect the saliva, you put the swab back into the kit, seal it up and actually test it right there.”

The new device goes even further than marijuana. It can detect nearly half a dozen other drugs.

“Amphetamines, methamphetamines, THC, opiates, cocaine,” Cluever said. “The one with the single lines, that’s a positive sample for whatever that strip is testing for.”

The results are then crunched at a UIC Lab by Jennifer Bash.

“I'm being used as the data collector by officers so that I can say 'this isn't going to be working well' and then they tell me what they want it to be able to do. So I can say we're going to be able to or not quite, or this is how far away we are,” Bash said.

There’s even more to the new drugged-driving program as a whole. Officers are also being trained on roadside checks, checking impairment in other ways through impairment tests.

“Her arms came up greater than 6 inches. She put her foot down multiple times. She swayed and I would say she hopped,” said Carol Stream Officer Dan Stafie.

Body cues are also important.

“We see a lot of eyelid tremors for cannabis based on our training,” Stafie said. “We're looking to see if they can stand and not break.”

Police departments are reminding drivers that impaired driving of any kind isn't worth it.

“A best case scenario if you're under the influence is getting arrested. The worst case is you end your life, someone that is in the vehicle with you or the life of someone else on the roadway,” Cluever said.