First evaluation of the possibility of testing for drugged driving using exhaled breath sampling

Traffic Inj Prev. 2019;20(3):238-243. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2019.1584397. Epub 2019 Apr 30.


Objective: Driving under the influence of psychoactive drugs causes an increased risk for accidents. In combating this, sobriety tests at the roadside are common practice in most countries. Sampling of blood and urine for forensic investigation cannot be done at the roadside and poses practical problems associated with costs and time. An alternative specimen for roadside testing is therefore warranted and the aerosol particles in exhaled breath are one such alternative. Methods: The present study investigated how the exhaled breath sample compared with the routine legal investigations of blood and urine collected from suspects of drugged driving at 2 locations in Sweden. Exhaled breath was collected using a simple filter collection device and analyzed with state-of-the-art mass spectrometry technique. Results: The total number of cases used for this investigation was 67. In 54 of these cases (81%) the results regarding a positive or negative drug test result agreed and in 13 they disagreed. Out of these, the report from the forensic investigation of blood/urine was negative in 21 cases. In 6 of these, analytical findings were made in exhaled breath and these cases were dominated by the detection of amphetamine. In 7 cases a positive drug test from the forensic investigation was not observed in the breath sample and these cases were dominated by detection of tetrahydrocannabinol in blood. In total, 45 samples were positive with breath testing and the number of positives with established forensic methods was 46. Conclusion: The promising results from this study provide support to exhaled breath as a viable specimen for testing of drugged driving. The rapid, easy, and convenient sampling procedure offers the possibility to collect a drug test specimen at the roadside. The analytical investigation must be done in a laboratory at present because of the need for a highly sensitive instrument, which is already in use in forensic laboratories. The analytical work is not more challenging than for blood or oral fluid and should not cause an increase in cost. However, more studies need to be done before exhaled breath drug testing can be applied routinely for drugged driving investigation.

Keywords: Drugs; drugged driving; exhaled breath; mass spectrometry.

MeSH terms

  • Breath Tests / methods*
  • Driving Under the Influence*
  • Exhalation
  • Humans
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Sweden