According to some observers, drug-impaired drivers are becoming as common as drivers under the influence of alcohol.

A group at Simon Fraser University in B.C. is currently developing a new device that could help bust drivers who are on drugs, but the product faces a host of legal issues.

The Ophthalight was originally intended for medical-focused use, but the creators found that the technology could help law enforcement.

Although the group isn't getting into specifics about how the device works - because of intellectual property concerns - it does say the Ophthalight performs eight different eye examinations, which help officials make a judgement about the driver's sobriety. According to some observers, drug-impaired drivers are becoming as common as drivers under the influence of alcohol.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, which has a current reliability rating of 77 percent, helps police find drivers under the influence of drugs. The driver is asked to use his or her eyes to follow a stimulus to the left and the right, while the police officer tries to record the angle at which the pupil starts to exhibit nystagmus, which is an involuntary jerking of the eye. A jerky movement that occurs at or before a 45-degree angle is a hint that the driver is under the influence.

Kyla Lee says there's no use for something like the Ophthalight, and even more bluntly, states "I don't think it's something that we'll ever see as part of our legal system."

The problem with the test is that there's a lot of guesswork. For instance, it's not always easy guessing what a 45-degree angle is. In addition, lighting situations can vary wildly depending on when and where the tests are done, furthering hampering accuracy.

It's similar to roadside eye exams used today in different provinces, but is "very accurate and objective" according to Ehsan Daneshi, a PhD student in computational neuroscience at Simon Fraser University, and a member of the group developing the Ophthalight.

The problem, according to a lawyer speaking to CBC.ca, is that police officers have already been trained on how to detect drug-impaired drivers. Kyla Lee says there's no use for something like the Ophthalight, and even more bluntly, states "I don't think it's something that we'll ever see as part of our legal system."

In its story, CBC notes that the Ophthalight, for example, would only replace one of the tests in B.C.'s Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST). Beyond the eye exam, the SFST also involves a walk and turn test (similarly used in Ontario) and a balance test.

In the CBC story, both Daneshi and Lee note that police already use different ways of checking for drug use, including blood and urine tests. Daneshi says the Ophthalight would help find drivers suspected of being impaired by drugs, but a blood test is "the ultimate way of saying somebody has consumed alcohol or other drugs," said Daneshi.

There's still time for lawyers and law enforcement to mull the legalities of the Ophthalight - Daneshi tells CBC he expects the device to be ready for law enforcement in 2018.

Source: CBC, Ophthalight

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