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Belgium introduces saliva drug test for drivers

Saliva tests to check whether drivers are using drugs were launched on the 1st of October 2010 in Belgium. This test will be much simpler and less time consuming than the old method to detect drivers using drugs.
Saliva tests for drivers were launched on the 1st of October 2010 in Belgium. A police inquiry suggested the old procedure was complex and time consuming. Police had to judge drivers on their appearance and some psychomotor tests. There was also a urine test that was unreliable; sanitised conditions were not always available. Usually, a blood sample would be taken and sent to the lab.

The new procedure consists of three major steps. First, the police work with a standard checklist that determines if the driver shows characteristics of recent drug use. If the driver shows at least three characteristics, it is considered to indicate recent use. The saliva test then follows; the driver rubs a testing device over his or her tongue. The device can indicate whether drugs have been used and if so, which drugs. If the driver tests positive, a saliva sample is taken for analysis. A transitional period is currently in place and the blood test is still being used.

Belgium has been acclaimed as a pioneer in Europe for implementing this project; only Australia has had considerable experience using saliva tests. In Australia the tests have had a positive influence on the behaviour of drivers. 33% of drug users have indicated that the test affected them, influencing some to avoid using drugs and then driving a vehicle. The proportion of drug users that admitted driving under the influence of drugs decreased from 45% to 35%.

The new tests are supposed to be a more efficient way to test drug use but there has been a lot of criticism. Firstly, there is a big error rate; several studies indicate an error rate of about 10 percent. Secondly, saliva analysis can only indicate whether the driver has used drugs recently and not whether he or she was under the influence while driving. In addition, the legal framework for saliva analysis is yet to be established.

Source: Press release E. Schouppe (State Secretary), De Morgen (news paper)

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Western Europe
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