Senate Acts to Prosecute Drunk Drivers and Make NY Roads Safer

March 04, 2010

Bill allows blood drawn during medical care to determine alcohol content

The State Senate passed legislation (S46A) today which would allow blood drug and alcohol content evidence taken from the scene of accidents to be used to prosecute potentially impaired drivers.
Currently, there is a conflict between medical practice and a statutory requirement of physician supervision of blood draws.  The medical community allows trained medical personnel to routinely withdraw blood from individuals without the direction and supervision of a physician, yet the Vehicle and Traffic Law does not.
The legislation is part of the Majority’s legislative commitment to making our roads safer by enacting some of the toughest drunk driving laws in the nation, including Leandra’s Law which passed last fall and increases the penalty for any person who drives intoxicated with a child passenger to a felony. The Majority also passed New York’s texting ban last year.
“All too often, intoxicated drivers who are involved in motor vehicle collisions escape prosecution,” Senate Majority Leader John L. Sampson said.  “If a police officer requests that medical personnel draw blood to test for intoxication after a collision, this evidence is suppressed unless a physician is present to supervise the procedure. This requirement is overly restrictive and impedes the ability of police and prosecutors to enforce laws against drunk or drugged driving.”
“This legislation closes a longtime loophole that allowed drunk drivers to evade criminal prosecution. Under this provision, law enforcement will have the ability to facilitate an essential component to field sobriety testing. Having immediate access to these blood samples is critical to determining guilt or innocence, in cases where drunk driving is suspected,” said Senator Martin Malavé Dilan (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
“A simple conflict between current medical practice and a statutory requirement in the Vehicle and Traffic Law should not be a loophole for drunk drivers to get a free pass,” said Senator William Stachowski (D-Lake View).  “This legislation would close that loophole to allow drunk drivers to be prosecuted and get them off our roads.”
“Strengthening enforcement and prosecution of drunk driving laws will help to protect innocent victims and ensure that the perpetrator can be prosecuted,”  Senator Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point) said. “I support this legislation.”
This legislation is necessary to ensure that drunk or drug impaired drivers can be prosecuted when involved in a motor vehicle accident that injures or kills someone as in the case of Jack Shea.
Shea, a double Olympic gold medalist, was killed on January 23, 2002 in a collision with a drunk driver. Although the driver was indicted for vehicular manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and driving while intoxicated, ultimately the district attorney could not present proof of the driver's blood alcohol level. Though blood was drawn at Adirondack Medical Center where both men were brought for treatment, because Shea’s injuries were more serious there was no doctor on duty to supervise the drawing of the blood from the other driver, only a physician's assistant. As a result, the judge in the case ruled that the blood-alcohol test was illegally administered because it was not supervised by a physician.
This bill would remove the requirement that a physician supervise the with-drawl of blood from an intoxicated driver allowing blood evidence to be used in a court of law.