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A twist on automated eye exam technology could help take impaired drivers off the road

A Simon Fraser University researcher says he's developed a device that can detect whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Linda Aylesworth explains.

Getting drivers who are impaired by both drugs and alcohol off the road has been an enormous challenge for law enforcement in B.C. and across Canada.

Currently, police rely on rather old-school technology to see if the driver may be impaired: a simple flashlight and eye test is how officers test those suspected of driving impaired.

But a researcher at Simon Fraser University claims he has found a better, human error free and more quantifiable way to tell if the driver is committing a “driving under the influence” (DUI) offence.

Impaired driving remains a leading cause of car crash fatalities in B.C. DUI incidents kill on average 78 people in British Columbia every year. ICBC estimates approximately 26 per cent of all car crash fatalities are related to impaired driving.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse says drivers who test positive for the use of opioids are up to eight times more likely to be involved in a traffic crash. They also say that among all drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes in Canada between 2000 and 2010, 16.4 per cent tested positive for cannabis.

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READ MORE: What happens when you’re caught driving stoned? Canada’s Supreme Court may soon tell us

Ehsan Daneshi, a computational neuroscience PhD candidate, claims his gadget is the first DUI detection device that can test for both drugs, including cannabis, LSD, cocaine and other drugs, as well as alcohol.

The portable device that looks more like a set of virtual reality glasses is unlike any other available, according to Daneshi.

SFU's Ehsan Daneshi claims his device can produce human-error free, quantifiable results when it comes to catching impaired drivers on the road.

“No other device on the market can test for both drugs and alcohol,” he said.

Daneshi says using a flashlight to determine a driver’s sobriety level can be subjective and the results may vary based on the officer’s training and experience.

It also relies on the officer’s interpretation of what they are seeing.

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In contrast, the device Daneshi invented quantifies the test results and can provide admissible court evidence.

It does so by taking photos and videos of the driver’s eyes.

“We monitor and measure your pupil’s response to light and moving objects,” he said. “Alcohol and other drugs, such as LSD, affect your central nervous system. A good portion of neurons that lets your brain communicate with other parts of your body belongs to your eyes. The behaviour of your eyes, and in particular your pupils, changes after using those kinds of substances.”

Daneshi says there are some other tests on the market that are more invasive and lack in accuracy.

“We do it very accurately and let police officers make decisions based on quantifiable results,” he said.

READ MORE: Drugs, alcohol often tied to fatal crashes among teen drivers in B.C.

Daneshi’s creation is an offshoot of his work with a company that develops mobile eye examination tools.

The DUI detection technology he came up with is an iteration of so-called O-Glass, the technology which allows physicians to perform inexpensive, accurate and automated eye exams to help make cost-effective eye care ubiquitous around the world.