Roadside Drug Testing: Are You In Trouble?

Roadside Drug Testing: Are You In Trouble?


Roadside drug testing is not usually something you see on an episode of Cops. Specially trained police officers perform the tests in controlled situations, such as sobriety checkpoints, especially when an officer suspects a driver might be on drugs. 

Roadside drug testing has been a controversial issue in recent times. There are many things we don't know about roadside drug testing, and many people believe that more research must be performed before it is implemented. 

In the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of roadside drug testing. The Fourth Amendment allows all the police officers to conduct random roadside drug tests on drivers in a limited number of situations. Meaning, a police officer may drug test you if he/she suspects that you are driving under influence of any illegal drugs including alcohol. 

Table Of Contents:

What Is Roadside Drug Screening?

Roadside drug testing is a process by which police officers test drivers for drugs. Almost every state has enacted laws requiring drivers to submit to a breath or swab test by police on suspicion of driving under drug influence. 

Roadside Drug testing is usually referred to as a "roadside test.” Roadside drug screening generally relates to the processes by which police officers test drivers for drug use without obtaining a warrant or arresting them. 

Several drivers in the USA are arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, and some are booked into jail, resulting in fines and penalties. Roadside drug testing analyzes saliva swab tests for traces of drugs in the body.

Think of it as a kind of breathalyzer, but for drugs. It is a non-invasive procedure performed by a trained officer. The drug test results are quick and provide actionable data. It is used by police departments throughout the country, including in some states, as part of the regular criminal offense report.

Why And When Roadside Drug Screening May Be Conducted?

The main reason for implementing roadside drug testing is the increasing amount of accidental injuries and deaths. The financial cost of accidents related to DUI in the USA is approximately 30 billion dollars a year.

Several states have passed laws allowing officers to perform roadside drug screenings on motorists if there are reasonable grounds for suspicion that the driver has consumed drugs. States across the U.S have implemented several roadside drug testing techniques in recent years. 

Roadside drug testing is not a predetermined drug test. The police will stop you if it gives the suspicion to them that you are under drug influence. It is a random drug test where the police officer might stop any vehicle where the owner/driver shows signs of intoxication. 

The roadside drug test is often a preliminary test using a drug testing kit. The officer can opt for more intrusive drug testing devices if they are unsure about the driver's condition. Also, when a person is involved in an accident that leads to severe injuries or deaths, the police can conduct mandatory roadside drug testing on all drivers and passengers.

What Are The Drugs Tested In A Roadside Drug Test?

Roadside drug testing is conducted to detect the presence of drugs in different categories (e.g., illegal drugs, prescription medications, over-the-counter medications). The most commonly used drugs are as follows:

  •  Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • PCP (phencyclidine)
  • Methamphetamine (meth) and amphetamine (amp) test for amphetamine abuse.

Moreover, non-prescription medications can also be detected if they are taken in larger doses to cause impairment. Yet, these medications will not be considered drugs if they are taken as prescribed by a physician and in the recommended dosage.

What Drug Testing Method Do They Use?

Police officers typically conduct roadside drug screening using specific techniques. Usually, a roadside drug test is done using an oral fluid sample, also known as a mouth swab drug test, to test for the presence of drugs. 

A saliva swab is placed on the inside of the cheek of the subject and then transported to a laboratory. It is only a preliminary test, but it provides reasonable suspicion that a driver might be under the influence.

Most of the time, this drug test will show if it was consumed hours ago, but its effectiveness varies across various drugs. It can show whether a person consumed drugs up to 72 hours prior. However, roadside drug tests are not very reliable to detect the recent abuse of certain drugs like MMJ or MAMP. 

Is There A Reliable Roadside Test For Drugs?

To be reliable for drug screening, the evidence must be present in about 90% or greater of drivers tested with an oral fluid sample. The reliability of roadside drug tests is still a concern as it relates to the accuracy of the results, increasing the chances of false positives. The main reason why an initial roadside drug test might be inaccurate:

  1.  The test might miss traces of drugs in the saliva because they will not be present in the candidate’s saliva for a long time and can be excreted immediately after taking drugs. So even if users have taken drugs in the past, they might not show up on the roadside drug testing.

The Washington Post reported, "The current technology used in drug testing varies depending on the location of the testing facility and how it was certified by either a state or federal agency.” Moreover, the substances identified will depend upon many factors, including:

  • The type of drug test
  • The amount of the drug consumed
  • The duration of drug intake  
  • The method of ingestion
  • Individual tolerance levels

A reliable and sensitive test procedure involves a specific identification procedure which is probably missing out in the Roadside drug testing process.  Currently, none of the existing drug tests used for drug presence are trustworthy enough.

For example, a mouth swab drug test may register an initial positive result for marijuana use but cannot identify the active ingredient of THC. Also, it cannot determine the level of THC present.

The same situation occurs with alcohol breath testing, but it is not related to a particular drug in this case. Regular alcohol breath testing has inherent limitations and fails to identify recent use of alcohol.

How Long Does Weed Stay In Roadside Drug Test?

Weed stays in the body for about 3 to 5 weeks. In that case, the weed consumption might show up in your drug test for 12 hours in your blood test and 24 hours in your oral saliva, and for 12 hours in the breathalyzer. 

If you are a regular drinker, you may have a higher chance of getting caught in your roadside drug test. It is because the traces may remain in your system for a longer period, if you regularly take it, and it hardly goes away even if you follow detox methods. There is a fair chance you may clear your drug test if you are an occasional drinker.

The only way to ensure you pass roadside drug testing is to abstain from consuming drugs for as long as possible before driving.

Does Ketamine Show On Roadside Drug Test?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic. It is used to sedate patients and reduce the feeling of pain in many procedures. Ketamine is used illegally  in the USA as an anesthetic and recreational club drug. 

In low doses, ketamine can cause a sense of detachment or "out of body" experience. Some users take ketamine in large quantities to experience a hallucinogenic effect. Besides, roadside saliva swab drug tests can detect the presence of ketamine for about 24 hours after consumption. 

Also, it has been found that ketamine can be detected in urine tests for up to 3 days after consumption. Ketamine can stay in the body for several days. But, to a more significant extent, it depends on the type of ketamine consumed and individual tolerance levels.

Thus, it is recommended that you stay clear of all types of drugs, as long as you intend to drive in any state.

Do Transportation Workers Get Drug Tested In A Roadside Drug Test?

All the transportation workers in the transport industry may face a DOT drug test  in the lines of the federal government’s guidelines. Apart from the pre-employment, employers may drug test transportation workers randomly to check their productivity. Some states allow certain types of transportation workers to be drug tested at their discretion, such as truck drivers, and bus drivers.

However, the roadside drug test for these drivers cannot be done without the driver's consent. Even though the law enforcement agencies might have these statutory powers, a government or court order is required to perform these drug tests. The drivers have the right to challenge these roadside drug tests. But it is not recommended if the law enforcement agency has a warrant to conduct a drug test.

If the agent does not have a warrant, the driver can question the reason or the process, or they can challenge the results of the test. If they pass the roadside drug test, they cannot be convicted as long as there is no evidence of impairment.

Can You Refuse A Roadside Drug Test?

In most states in the USA, you can refuse to take any roadside drug test. But, this may be considered an indication of your guilt and result in more severe penalties. For example, if you refuse a roadside test for alcohol that a police officer in Florida conducts, your license may be suspended for up to one year. 

Refusing a drug test is equipotent with a positive test result. As a matter of fact, in some states, you can even be arrested for refusing roadside drug testing. Yet, a person has a right to refuse a roadside drug test only if the police officer does not have the reasonable grounds to administer that test constitutionally. 

Also, the officer should respect their decision if the person provides a valid reason for refusing the drug test. Moreover, you aren't legally obliged to take a drug test unless you're driving. No law compels you to take a drug test in these situations.


Roadside drug testing is the best way to restrict driving under the influence.  If a police officer stops you under suspicion, it is better to take the drug test rather than refuse it. 

Roadside drug testing helps to identify short-term abuse of specific drugs and their metabolites in a person's body. To avoid detection and penalties, it is recommended that you abstain from consuming drugs while driving.


Are All Roadside Drug Tests Accurate?

Some roadside drug tests are considered more reliable than others. For example, breath or urine tests may be more reliable than hair follicle tests or saliva tests using oral fluids. The most reliable category of roadside testing is probably the blood test because it can detect drugs for a relatively long period after consumption.

If A Roadside Test Shows Positive, Does That Mean I'm Guilty?

In most states in the United States, if a roadside drug test shows positive for drugs, it does not necessarily indicate that you are driving under the influence of drugs. But, it can indicate your presence at the scene and establish probable cause for your arrest. Also, depending on the situation, you may be charged with a violation instead of being convicted.

Are There Any Legal Limits Or Exceptions To Roadside Drug Testing?

Legal limits exist in all the states in the USA against illicit drugs and the federal and state government is taking appropriate measures to put brakes on roadside drug testing. Driving under the influence of any drugs (Not only alcohol) is a crime and you may face severe consequences if you disobey the government. So, while hitting the road, make sure you never hit on any illegal drugs. 

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