Article by Joseph Hall, Toronto Star
Dastiger Khan was a University of Waterloo fraternity brother when he noticed something troubling wafting over many of the parties he and his friends would throw.
“Me and my partners, we threw a lot of events … and we always promoted designated drivers at our parties,” says Khan, a 23-year-old economics major at the school. “What we often noticed was individuals that would be fine with not drinking and driving (but) they would be fine with smoking a joint or hitting a bong.”
Worried they could face civil or criminal liability if a stoned driver got into an accident, Khan and three pals from Waterloo’s Wilfrid Laurier University brainstormed. And out of that came a new roadside screening device — known as Guard-Ex — that has attracted $1 million in start-up funding and is now being road-tested by several municipal police forces across the province.
Instead of screening for levels of alcohol, cannabis components or other drugs in the body, the group’s new technology acts more like a cop in a box — incorporating many of the roadside tests that specially trained police officers would conduct to determine impairment.
Specifically, the contraption mimics many of the important functions that are part of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) and the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) protocols, which are the gold standard for determining if someone is wrecked behind the wheel.
The trouble with these established tests, however, are twofold.
First, because of the expense — some $15,000 to fully train and equip an officer — only a small portion of police on any force are taught the techniques. The Toronto Police Service, for example, has only a “few hundred” of its 5,400 uniformed officers trained in the specialized screening tests, says spokesperson Clint Stibbe.
Second, the main line of attack that defence lawyers use in court for clients judged impaired by the trained officers is that the tests were biased or flawed in their administration.
“We’re taking (many) of the different tests from the DFST and DRE and we’re automating them,” Khan says. “It removes the human bias and error from it, and it can concretely hold up in court,” he says, adding the devices would also make the tests more widely available.
The device — which can be mounted at head height on an adjustable pole — comes in a black, hard-shelled case, which opens up to expose a host of testing gadgetry on its inner face.
There is a virtual-reality-like visor that drivers look into for a series of tests that track eye movement. These include horizontal gaze nystagmus and vertical gaze nystagmus exams, which police would normally perform by scanning a pen light in front of a driver’s face to check for shaking or jerking in the eyes, as they move sideways and up and down.