No probable cause? NJ bill would expand post-crash sobriety tests

| Thursday, June 11, 2009

An effort in the New Jersey statehouse would require sobriety tests for truckers and other drivers in “serious” wrecks, whether or not there’s indication of driving “under the influence.” The additional power the bill would give to law enforcement is of significant concern to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

New Jersey law now permits a sobriety test to be given only when there is evidence or clear suspicion that a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Sponsored by Assembly Democrats Paul Moriarty of Gloucester and Nelson Albano of Cumberland, the bill states that police officers would be required to obtain a breath or blood sample of drivers of vehicles involved in wrecks resulting in death or serious injury to another person.

Refusal to abide by the rule could result in fines up to $1,000 and a possible two-year suspension of the offender’s driver’s license – the same penalty for a conviction of refusal in relation to a drunken driving charge.

Opponents say it is unconstitutional to force someone to submit to a blood or urine test if there is no probable cause to suspect them of a crime.

Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs, said the bill takes implied consent to the extreme.

“It’s utterly ridiculous. The fact that there is no probable cause to conduct such an intrusive bodily invasion and furthermore not even specify who can or cannot draw the blood is appalling,” Craig told Land Line.

OOIDA Foundation Director Tom Weakley said passage of the bill would open the state up to a lot of headaches they might not have bargained for.

“You’re getting really far out there. Anytime you have anything that invades the body – a needle going into the bloodstream – you open yourself up to some kind of malpractice unless you’ve had some very extensive training. I can think of a million things a lawyer would have a field day with,” Weakley said.

Supporters say the requirement would help police determine whether the driver should be arrested or charged with a crime.

“Testing for the influence of drugs or alcohol at the scene of an accident makes common sense,” Albano said in a written statement. “Not only would police be able to determine whether a driver was under the influence, they would be able to ensure that impaired drivers don’t get back behind the wheel and will face serious charges.”

The Assembly bill – A3838 – is in the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. The Senate version – S2810 – is in the Senate Law and Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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