The National Transportation Safety Board has called for police officers in Pennsylvania and around the country to be provided with a standardized roadside test to determine whether or not motorists are driving under the influence of drugs. The government watchdog said in an Oct. 16 statement that action is urgently needed due to a worrying rise in opioid use and the increased legalization of medical and recreational marijuana.

According to the NTSB, drug tests performed on drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents between 2006 and 2015 reveal an alarming increase in drug use. In 2006, only 30 percent of these tests discovered traces of prescription or illegal drugs. This figure rose to 46 percent in 2015. In addition to developing a roadside narcotics test that can be used across the country, the government watchdog has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to provide law enforcement with training to help officers identify drivers who could be dangerously impaired by drugs.

The NHTSA says that it is aware of the problem and is taking steps to address it. The agency also points out that establishing drug impairment is not as straightforward as measuring alcohol intoxication. The agency recently conducted public meetings to discuss drug-impaired driving in Baltimore, Seattle and Nashville, and it says that it has also added messages about the dangers of getting behind the wheel after using drugs to its advertising campaigns.

Proving DUI charges beyond reasonable doubt can be difficult for prosecutors when drug rather than alcohol intoxication is involved. This is because the science linking drug concentrations in the blood to impairment is a developing field and research is far from complete. When their clients are accused of driving while under the influence of drugs and toxicology test results are less than convincing, experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek to have DUI charges dismissed or reduced.