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DWI Arrestees: Unexpected Partners in Public Safety Innovation

With driving while intoxicated arrests rising, Minnesota is turning to tech for solutions. The state is piloting cutting-edge roadside drug testing devices with unexpected participants: people arrested for DWI.

Law enforcement officers participating in an oral fluid test training in Minnesota.
Oral Fluid Test Training in Minnesota
Minnesota Department of Public Safety
Every good pilot project needs good data. To determine whether new roadside saliva testing technology to detect drugged driving works, Minnesota is enlisting an unexpected group of volunteers for help — people arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI).

And it turns out, most of the time, they’re willing.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) started this pilot in January, putting two different types of roadside testing equipment in the hands of DPS drug recognition experts (DREs). These officers are highly trained at determining if someone is under the influence of something other than alcohol.

There’s a reason why the piloted technology is starting in the hands of officers who have been trained to detect the signs of drug tests with their eyes and ears — it’s expensive, and backlogs to verify its accuracy at the state crime lab mean resources are precious. Oral fluid test results from the pilot won’t be used in any cases or court proceedings — instead, the state hopes the data that’s being collected will inspire legislative action in the future.

And ultimately, officials would like to get the technology in the hands of street officers who don’t have specialized drug detection training.

That’s the overall goal they’re working toward, in response to a drugged driving crisis in Minnesota. Mike Hanson, director of DPS’ Office of Traffic Safety, told Government Technology drug-impaired driving arrests have surged in the state, up 96 percent when comparing the current five-year period to the previous five-year period. It’s unclear exactly which five years these periods cover.

“It’s not just one substance, it’s methamphetamine, amphetamine and cocaine in some areas is making a comeback. Like everybody else we have an opioid crisis on our hands, and there’s just all kinds of other substances out there,” said Hanson, who added that although the pilot was inspired in part by Minnesota’s move in 2023 to legalize cannabis for recreational use, that was not the state’s only concern. “The really alarming part of this is we are frequently finding people who are not just using one substance, but they’re using two, three, four at the same time,” he said.


Some DRE officers keep the mobile roadside testing units with them in vehicles out on patrol.

When an arrest takes place, the officer asks the arrestee if they’re willing to give a voluntary oral fluid sample to help the state with the pilot project.

“The sample is masked, so the DRE has no way of knowing what the results are until the whole arrest process is complete,” said Hanson. “The oral fluid test cannot be used as part of the probable cause to make the arrest, the results cannot be used in a court proceeding, and they cannot be used on an annual driver’s license sanction.”

The results of this voluntary testing technique have impressed project leaders. A total of 187 people arrested for DWI have been asked to provide samples, and only 35 drivers declined to participate.

“I really wish I had a magic formula for how to help other states figure out how to do this, but it really comes down to putting the tools in the hands of the right officers at the right time,” said Hanson. “I’d like to pat my law enforcement partners here in Minnesota on the back. That we’re getting that many people who find themselves under arrest for a drug impaired driving offense and are still willing to work with us and provide a voluntary sample, that tells me these officers know how to deal with people very well.”

As part of a typical drugged driving investigation, blood samples are taken from the arrestee. Those samples are sent to the state’s crime lab as part of the official investigation, and will eventually be paired with the results of the oral fluid test to determine how accurate the mobile instruments are.

However, a backlog at the crime lab has slightly delayed getting early results back to gauge the accuracy of the technology.

“There’s a delay at the crime lab, right now we’re running 40 to 50 days between the time the sample is sent and the lab test results come back,” said Hanson.


The initial pilot has a budget of about $1.4 million, an amount Hanson said the state has spent “a good part of.” Another appropriation is available in the fiscal year 2025 state budget to augment that amount if needed.

The state is testing new different types of equipment, the Dräger DrugTest 5000 System and the SoToxa Mobile Test System. Each portable kit weighs less than 10 pounds and tests saliva samples for at least six different kinds of drugs, including amphetamines, methamphetamines, opiates, cocaine, benzodiazepines and cannabinoids in less than 15 minutes.

Government Technology placed records requests to DPS for the RFP responses to learn how much this technology costs to operate.

The Dräger DrugTest 5000 System costs $4,997 per unit. The price is $557 for a kit of 20 test cartridges — $27.85 per test.

The SoToxa Mobile Test System costs $4,900 per testing unit. Test cartridges are priced at $685 for a case of 25 — $27.40 per test.


Testing the accuracy, efficiency and effectiveness of the roadside testing instruments is just the first part of this pilot.

The second part is to produce a report to provide to the Legislature in the 2025 session seeking approval to use oral fluids units as a roadside screening test, the same way officers currently use breathalyzers.

According to Hanson, until drug detection technology is approved for use in the field, the state won’t have an accurate idea just how many drugged drivers are on the roads.

”This is all about public safety,” said Hanson. “Really, what it comes down to is saving lives and preventing crashes from happening in the first place.”
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.