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Close the Window On DUIs After Serious Traffic Accidents?

Under Illinois law, motorists involved in serious accidents are not automatically compelled to take a breathalyzer, nor will they face serious punishment if they refuse to provide a blood or breath sample if police do make that request. A recent fatal car wreck, allegedly caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol, brings this gap in Illinois law to the forefront.

Off-Duty Police Officer's DUI Charges Dismissed for Lack of Evidence

In November 2007, an off-duty Chicago police officer reportedly consumed over a half dozen drinks in a few hours, then crashed into an oncoming vehicle, killing its occupants, two young men. At the scene, no one questioned whether the off-duty cop had been drinking, even given the gravity of the accident.

In fact, the off-duty cop was not tested until eight hours after the accident, upon the request of his supervisor. By the time his blood alcohol content was tested, he was under the legal limit. Later, when prosecutors pursued aggravated DUI and reckless homicide charges, a judge refused to allow evidence of the cop's intoxication. He ruled that the authorities lacked probable cause to charge the cop with offenses related to his intoxication since authorities could not point to a test that showed him to be intoxicated at the time of the accident.

Making Blood Alcohol Testing Mandatory After Any Serious Accident?

Right now, Illinois law does not require officers at the scene of an accident to test anyone for blood alcohol content. The investigating officer has discretion to request a blood or breath sample, if he or she deems it necessary. In some cases, evidence of intoxication is obvious and the officer will demand a breath sample or a blood sample will be taken at the hospital. But in others, intoxicated drivers can hide signs of intoxication or a sample is not taken because of the hectic scene of the accident.

This problem could easily be eliminated by mandatory testing of all drivers involved in serious car accidents. But is this blanket response best? Mandatory testing of all drivers means a significant jump in testing, investigation time and resources. In many, if not most cases, drivers will not have alcohol in their blood, thus investigative resources will be wasted. On a practical point, the cost to the state may be substantial.

While a law directed at mandatory testing for all drivers involving in serious car accidents is good in theory, the costs may outweigh the benefits in this instance. The Illinois General Assembly will have to debate this issue if a law is to be passed requiring alcohol testing after all serious motor vehicle accidents.