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Toluene-Impaired Drivers: Behavioral Observations, Impairment Assessment, and Toxicological Findings

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 54 Issue: 2 Dated: March 2009 Pages: 486-489
Brian Capron B.S.; Barry K. Logan Ph.D.
Date Published
March 2009
4 pages
This report describes a series of six cases that involved drivers arrested for driving under the influence of an intoxicant (DUI) who subsequently tested positive for toluene, an aromatic hydrocarbon solvent frequently abused for its euphoric and intoxicating properties.
In these six cases, the concentrations of toluene in the blood were considered to be well in excess of occupational exposure and consistent with known toxic effects. The lowest blood toluene concentration measured was 12 mg/L; this subject showed clear evidence of impairment consistent with central nervous system (CNS) depression, with many of the expected signs evident (staggering gait, slurred speech, and "twilight state"). The subjects also displayed horizontal but not vertical nystagmus, elevated pulse and blood pressure, and lower body temperatures. The observations in these cases confirm prior reports that subjects with blood toluene concentrations above 10 mg/L are invariably impaired in their driving skills to the point of DUI. The six drivers were stopped by police officers of various agencies in Washington State under reasonable suspicion of DUI. The precipitating driving events included a single-vehicle collision in a parking lot, failure to maintain the vehicle within the driving lane, driving into oncoming traffic, a collision with a fence, running a red light, and weaving and making an improper turn. The blood samples of each driver were screened by Enzyme Multiplied Immunoassay Technique for cocaine metabolite, opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, cannabinoids, amphetamines, phencyclidine, propoxyphene, methadone, and tricyclic antidepressants. Volatiles were screened and quantified by gas chromatography with headspace autosampling, and the identity of aromatic hydrocarbons was confirmed qualitatively by headspace gas chromatography with full scan mass selective detection. 1 table and 14 references