The news and literature are rife with data regarding the effects of alcohol intoxication and how they negatively impact one’s ability to drive. It is also well known that the amount of alcohol necessary to cause these effects—one’s tolerance—differs by person. Additional factors behind intoxication include the amount of food in one’s stomach, how quickly the alcohol was consumed, one’s sex, and one’s size. Because of these differences, lawmakers have come up with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measurement to assess whether someone is legally intoxicated. In the U.S., this legal limit is .08 percent of alcohol in one’s bloodstream (although Utah is considering lowering this to .05.) This is referred to as the per se level and is central to many DWI laws across the country. In other words, if an individual is caught driving and has a BAC of at least .08, s/he is considered guilty of DWI regardless of his/her actual impairment, if any.
While this is fairly straightforward, the waters become muddied when drugs are added into the equation. Both illicit and legally prescribed or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can create significant impairment among motorists, thus rendering any number of people unsafe to drive. And like alcohol, the effects of these substances affect different people in different ways.
To address this, many states have criminalized driving with any amount of a drug that may have impairing effects on one’s ability to drive. This creates a serious issue for those law-abiding citizens who are legally using medication. Whereas a breathalyzer can accurately record one’s BAC, there is no similar test for drugs. While officers can test for drugs in a driver’s bloodstream or hair follicles after obtaining a warrant, these tests only prove the presence in one’s system—not when the drugs were taken or intoxication level. Additionally, some drugs—such as marijuana—are fat-soluble and may remain in a person’s system for more than a month after they’ve used it.
Enter the latest in mobile technology: the DRUID app.
The DRUID Mobile App
DRiving Under the Influence of Drugs (DRUID) is a mobile app for both iPhones/iPads and Android devices that attempts to measure a motorist’s level of actual impairment based on the performance of various tasks. Thus, instead of seeking to measure the actual level of an intoxicant in one’s blood, the DRUID app gathers information about “real-life, meaningful skills necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle.”
University of Massachusetts Psychology Professor Michael Milburn created DRUID to provide a possible solution for the DWI problem plaguing U.S. roadways. This app features a series of tests that are specifically designed to test possible drug intoxication.
How DRUID works
According to Milburn, DRUID tests particular symptoms such as the inability to recognize time passing or divide attention effectively, or whether one has slowed reaction times. From keeping track of disappearing shapes to standing on one leg to quick response tests to tracking objects in real time, these tests are designed to determine whether someone may be impaired and should not drive.
The app does not collect any personal information. The person simply takes a series of unique tests while sober to establish a baseline measurement. These tests measure five skills that the app designers determined are essential indicators of possible impairment: reaction time, divided attention, hand-eye coordination, decision making, and balance. Once the baseline measurement is established, s/he can take the tests at a later date to measure potential impairment. While the app won’t tell someone that s/he shouldn’t drive, it is useful for identifying whether someone is likely impaired.
After ingestion of a potential intoxicant, the app may show that one’s reaction time might be a certain percentage slower than the baseline measurement. Based on this information, the individual might determine that s/he doesn’t feel impaired with a 5% reduction but does feel impaired with a 20% reduction. Thus, with a higher measurement, said person may decide that s/he shouldn’t drive.
While this technology is not a panacea, it is definitely a step in the right direction toward reducing DWIs. The app enables users to make informed judgments about their own physical, behavioral, and cognitive states to determine whether they should be driving—or even engaging in any other complex task or operating machinery that may carry a risk of injury or death.
Whereas the app identifies shakes, wobbles, memory, and quickness and provides a potential sobriety score, it is still being improved with the hopes of developing tests that can effectively ascertain how recently someone might have smoked or otherwise used marijuana and how much. In the meantime, however, DRUID represents an effective technological tool that may help curb the incidence of impaired driving.