While football fans streamed into Michigan Stadium on Saturday morning, Brian Ellison, a Libertarian running for U.S. Senate, held up a sign that read “say no to oral,” written in permanent marker.
Along with a half dozen others at the corner of South Main Street and East Stadium Boulevard, Ellison, a resident of Royal Oak, protested the Preliminary Oral Fluid Analysis pilot program recently launched by the Michigan State Police. Similar to breathalyzing drunk drivers, officers can issue a roadside test to detect the presence of controlled substances in a person’s body by analyzing a mouth swab.
The one-year pilot program began on Nov. 8 in five counties, including Washtenaw. The counties were chosen based on the frequency of impaired driving crashes and the number of drugged drivers arrested, according to a press release from the Michigan State Police.
“We just wanted to raise awareness,” Ellison said. “It’s unconstitutional, it’s really a terrible program. You’re forced to put something in your mouth on the side of the road. You don’t have a choice. It’s forced on you.”
Under current law, refusing to submit to the drug test is a civil infraction.
Mike Saliba, chair of Libertarians of Macomb County, was among the protesters. He called the testing “bunk science.”
“This is one of the areas where they’re starting to roll out roadside drug testing,” Saliba said. “It really doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t help anybody. We just think it’s another way for the police to generate revenue by writing tickets and really ignore our Fourth Amendment rights.”
In addition to the initial drug test, Drug Recognition Experts — officers specially trained to identify and deal with impaired drivers — also administer a 12-step evaluation, which includes checking vital signs and the size of the driver’s pupils, according to the press release. The oral fluid analysis is preliminary, and positive results are confirmed by blood or urine tests.
According to statistics from the Michigan State Police, last year drugs were involved in 236 traffic deaths, up 32 percent from 179 fatalities in 2015.
Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police, said in statement that the danger posed by drugged driving is increasing.
“Motorists under the influence of drugs pose a risk to themselves and others on the road,” Etue said. “With drugged driving on the rise, law enforcement officers need an effective tool to assist in making these determinations during a traffic stop.”
Given the game day fanfare, the small but dedicated group would occasionally get lost in the throngs of people and then reappear with their homemade signs. One woman’s read “swab testing is rape.”
Ellison said he expected more residents to attend the rally.
“I was expecting kind of a bigger turnout,” Ellison said. “I think we didn’t plan on how much it was going to cost for people to park and maybe that drove some people away, but we’ve gotten some decent reception from that people that have showed up. It’s a success as far as I’m concerned.”