Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Michigan, once a leader, must do more to stop impaired driving

My life drastically changed on March 20, 2013, when my parents’ car was hit by a logging truck, whose impaired driver ran a red light and struck their car. 

My father died instantly. My mother passed away three days later. The driver, who tested positive for THC, was charged and convicted with operating a commercial motor vehicle with a suspended license, driving recklessly, and driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

 Brian Swift headshot
Brian Swift is an Escanaba native and Northern Michigan University graduate who serves as a National Alliance to Stop Impaired Driving national spokesperson and victim advocate.

Their deaths inspired me to take action to prevent impaired driving. I built a coalition and successfully pushed for Michigan Public Act 242 and 243 in 2016, known as the Barbara J. and Thomas J. Swift Law, the first legislatively mandated statewide oral fluid drug testing pilot program in the country. 

Michigan was once a leader in combating drugged and impaired driving. The pilot program by the Michigan State Police began in five counties and was expanded a year later to include all counties.  The analysis of the pilot revealed that oral fluid testing technology reliably identified drugged drivers for the purpose of preliminary testing. Despite its effectiveness, the pilot program lapsed when it did not receive continued state authorization by the end of 2020 as the state grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan boasts an expansive road infrastructure to accommodate our state’s size and diverse geography. We have invested in the repair and maintenance of our roadways: however, have we done enough to ensure our roads are safe for drivers and passengers? 

Alongside its many virtues, Michigan faces a persistent and devastating problem: the continued rise of impaired driving incidents. Despite concerted efforts to combat this menace, the statistics remain sobering, and the death toll on Michigan families continues to mount. The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that Michigan mandate the incorporation of oral fluid screening for roadside testing. 

How much longer can we wait to make these lifesaving changes?

In recent years, Michigan has made commendable strides in raising awareness about the dangers of distracted and impaired driving. Public education campaigns and the hands-free driving laws passed in 2023 have played a role in curbing these deadly behaviors. However, the increase in drugged driving, particularly polysubstance impaired driving (the use of multiple intoxicating substances), requires focus and prioritization at all levels. We must utilize all credible and available tools to secure the safety of our roadways.  

According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, there were 2,452 drug-involved crashes in Michigan in 2022, with 249 deaths of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and grandparents. That figure is more than double what it was a decade prior. Across the nation, 24% of fatal crashes involved drugged drivers and 40% of drug-positive driver fatalities involved a driver who tested positive for drugs and alcohol, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data from 2021. 

Unfortunately, the life-saving technology Michigan has already invested tax dollars in continues to collect dust, as testing devices remain on the shelf. As states around the nation continue to invest in life-saving technology and initiatives, Michigan lags behind other states and is no longer considered a leader on this front. States like Indiana, and recently Minnesota, have modeled the Michigan program to identify impaired drivers and get them off the roads before they kill or maim innocent victims.  

Michigan has the opportunity to lead again. Impaired driving exacts a heavy toll on Michigan's economy; including, but not limited to increased medical expenses, property damage, and lost productivity that adversely impact our economy. However, the tragedy of losing a loved one to a preventable vehicle crash is unimaginable. The suffering that victims and their families experience lasts forever. Lives are lost in an instant because of a deadly choice an impaired driver makes to get on the road and put others in harm’s way.  Impaired driving does not discriminate and affects everyone. 

I urge the Michigan Legislature and the governor to act and regain the position as the leading authority on roadside oral fluid testing.  The model program Michigan authorized and is being duplicated around the country should be celebrated. The time is now for our Michigan leaders and decision-makers to take a stand and combat impaired driving by implementing effective policies and tools for law enforcement.  

How impactful was this article for you?

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now