New Bill Would Require Drivers in Accidents to Submit to Sobriety Tests

The New Jersey legislature is considering a bill that would make it mandatory for any driver involved in a traffic accident where a fatality or a serious injury occurred to take a sobriety test. Currently, traffic officers cannot require a driver under such circumstances to submit to a blood or breath test unless the officer has a clear suspicion that the driver was operating the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a drug.

From 2004 to 2008, 33 to 37 percent of all traffic fatalities in New Jersey were alcohol-related. During this period, 26 to 31 percent of those fatalities involved drivers who had blood alcohol levels of 0.8 percent or higher. In 2008, there were 590 fatal traffic accidents of which 154 involved at least one driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.8 percent or higher. A driver is considered to be impaired if his or her blood alcohol level is 0.8 percent or higher.

A driver cannot be forced to take a sobriety test, but a refusal to take either a breath or blood alcohol test can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and a license suspension of up to two years. If the driver has had multiple drunk-driver offenses, the fines, license suspension and prison time increase as well.

Provisions of Proposed Law

The proposed law would enable New Jersey law enforcement to require drivers in serious or fatal auto accidents to submit to sobriety testing, regardless if the police officers have any clear suspicion or can point to any objective fact for believing the involved driver was impaired. This could result in more traffic accidents being determined as alcohol-related because more drivers will probably submit to testing, although it may encourage some drivers to refuse the test due to the gravity of the situation and the desire to avoid self-incrimination.

Also, an impaired driver’s conduct in a serious or fatal traffic accident can be considered egregious behavior subjecting the driver to punitive or exemplary damages that his or her auto insurance is not likely to cover if there is a punitive damages award in a civil matter.

Working With an Experienced Attorney

In any matter involving serious or fatal injuries, it is best to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who can advise you of your legal options and basis for an injury claim.