The Home Office has unveiled new drug-testing systems as the first examples of an initiative to design technology that reflects society’s ever-changing patterns of offending.
The Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB), which has opened its doors to the media for the first time, is developing a handheld driver-impairment device and a roadside screening system to detect drug use.
Breathalysers are not equipped to detect the presence of drugs, which means police must currently conduct manual tests to assess a driver’s capacity, such as asking them to walk in a straight line.
The HOSDB has unveiled a new device similar to a gaming console designed to assess a driver’s speed of reaction, accuracy and dexterity. The device will be loaded with a number of tests which will take approximately 12 minutes to complete. Home Office technologists are also developing a ‘drugalyser’ roadside screening system which will reveal if there are any drugs present in the body — and even exactly which type.
Using a simple swab taken from the mouth, the device employs Raman spectroscopy technology to analyse the saliva. A 10p-sized silver disc will be placed under a laser, where the beam will excite the substance and produce a chemical fingerprint. The technology — claimed to be a world first — will be able to detect substance traces to a level of nanograms per million.
Researchers claim the advantage of the system is its ability to keep up with and respond to the changing nature of society. The technology can adapt by obtaining the reference spectrum of any new drug, which negates the need to alter the surface of the disc or change the laser. It is currently able to recognise up to 12 different drugs, but there is no perceived limit on the number.
The Home Office is hoping to trial the device on the road within three years.
Alan Pratt, director of HOSDB, said the drug-testing systems reflect a new policy of focusing on changing societal trends. ‘Crime constantly innovates,’ he said. ‘We have to innovate in the same way to stay ahead.’