GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A roadside drug testing program established in 2016 should be expanded throughout Michigan to give law enforcement another tool to combat drugged driving, a state lawmaker says.

“In a nutshell, it is trying to develop a system and a tool to help our law enforcement agencies with drugged driving,’’ said Sen. Peter MacGregor, who sponsored Senate Bill 718 earlier this month.

It allows the state police to expand the roadside drug testing pilot program to all of Michigan’s 83 counties. The original program was approved for five Michigan counties, including Kent.

Michigan State Police in October launched the second phase of its Oral Fluid Roadside Analysis Pilot Program, expanding it beyond the original five counties.

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Motorists suspected of driving under the influence of a controlled substance are asked to provide a saliva sample to a specially-trained officer.

Although Michigan State Police is overseeing the program, specially trained officers from more than 50 agencies are involved in the second phase, including the Grand Rapids and Muskegon police departments and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.

“And what my bill does is says now the trial is going to be a little bit bigger,’’ MacGregor said. “The data that we got for the first year was only five counties. It’s still kind of in its trial phases over the next year.’’

Roadside tests have to be administered by a certified Drug Recognition Expert, or DRE. A DRE is trained to recognize impairment in a driver under the influence of a controlled substance rather than, or in addition to, alcohol.

Drug recognition experts go through 72 hours of classroom training and 40 hours of field training.

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“It’s costly and timely to become one of these so not every police agency or law enforcement agency has one,’’ said MacGregor, R-Rockford.

More than 120 drug recognition experts are currently working in Michigan.

According to a Michigan State Police news release, the state has seen a steady increase in fatal crashes involving drivers impaired by drugs. In 2018, there were 247 drug-involved fatalities, MSP reported.

A number of defense attorneys have come out against the roadside drug tests, saying they are too unreliable. Refusing to take the test is a civil infraction.

MacGregor says if the roadside saliva tests prove to be unreliable, it will be back to the drawing board. But so far, he says he likes what he sees from the five counties that were part of the initial pilot.

“We’re trying to gather preliminary data to find out is this the right tool to use so we can detect impaired driving,’’ MacGregor said. “The bottom line is saving lives.’’

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