Drivers In Serious Accidents Must Undergo Sobriety Tests In New York

By Kelly Burch 12/28/17

The new law requires testing of breath, blood or urine to determine whether a driver in a serious car accident was driving impaired.

Stressed Driver Sitting At Roadside After Traffic Accident

In the state of New York, drivers who are involved in a crash with a fatality or serious injury will have to undergo a sobriety test as part of the crash investigation, according to a new law passed last week that will take effect in the middle of January. 

"Impaired drivers who cause serious accidents must be held accountable for their actions,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said when he signed the bill, according to the Democrat & Chronicle. 

The law requires testing of the breath, blood or urine to determine whether a driver was impaired. Under current law, drivers are only required to undergo a sobriety test if authorities have established probable cause to believe that the driver was impaired.

Under the new law, sobriety testing will be required of all drivers involved in serious accidents, and drivers who refuse can have their license suspended. 

“Individuals need to be held accountable for their choices, especially when it leads to the death or serious injury of someone else,” said Republican state Sen. Pamela Helming, who sponsored the bill. “Eliminating loopholes in the current law that allow drivers under the influence to escape prosecution at the expense of someone else’s life is a start.”

However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the bill. Rochester DWI Attorney Ed Fiandach told WHEC that the law does not really add anything to current practices. “This is already being done all the time,” he said. “Any time a police officer suspects someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he or she is going to be subjected to… generally blood tests… to determine if that’s the case.”

Fiandach suggested that the law may be unconstitutional if police officers don’t need to provide probable cause before ordering a sobriety test. “When there is no probable cause the person was in intoxicated condition or brought about the accident, I think we’re going to have a lot of questions,” he said. 

However, people who have lost family members in crashes caused by impaired drivers praised the measure. 

“This kind of mandatory drug testing… it should be almost nationwide, not just New York,” said Stephen Hilyer, whose 30-year-old son was killed in a hit-and-run in 2012. The driver in that case had a history of driving under the influence, but was only charged with leaving the scene of an accident. 

“I think that all vehicle accidents that has fatalities or serious, serious, injuries, that person behind the wheel should be drug tested for any kind of illegal or legal drugs or alcohol as well,” Hilyer said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.