Wimberly, Garcia, McKeon & Giblin Bill to Mandate Blood Tests for Drivers Involved in Fatal Accidents Released by Assembly Panel

Bill named for North Haledon teenager, Michelle Sous, who was fatally struck by a car while crossing the street

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie E. Wimberly, Carmelo Garcia, John McKeon and Thomas P. Giblin requiring that a blood sample be taken from a driver involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

The legislation is named for Michelle Sous, a 17-year-old North Haledon resident who was struck by a car while crossing High Mountain Road on St. Patrick’s Day in 2013. Michelle died at the scene of the accident. The driver of the vehicle was not tested for alcohol and drug influence. Current law requires the arriving police officer to determine probable cause prior to issuing a blood test.

“Currently, an individual has to exhibit flagrant acts of intoxication- staggering, slurring of speech or odor of alcohol – to be sent for a blood test,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “When they refuse to take it, the officer must then obtain a warrant to compel the individual. By requiring this form of sobriety test, this legislation would allow law enforcement to take direct action in a vehicle accident that causes the death of another person.”

The bill (A-1404) would require that a blood sample be taken from a driver involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident to help determine whether the driver had alcohol or drugs in his or her system. A law enforcement officer would have to believe that the driver in question was under the influence. Under the bill, a person is considered to have given consent to the blood sample just as a person is considered to have given consent to a Breathalyzer test. The blood sample would be taken at a hospital.

“We already allow police officers to give drivers suspected of driving under the influence a breathalyzer test,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “Allowing blood samples to be collected in a suspicious fatal car accident can help officers obtain important evidence in an efficient manner.”

“Time is of the essence when investigating a fatal accident,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “This would allow law enforcement to either rule out or confirm the involvement of alcohol or drugs in an accident so they can bring the offender to justice and allow the grieving family to begin the healing process.”

“Alcohol is not the only substance that can incapacitate a driver,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “If the driver in a fatal car accident is suspected of being under the influence, then law enforcement should be allowed to get a blood test so the responsible party can be held accountable.”

The bill would require a person who refuses to consent to the blood test would be subject to the same penalties as a person who is convicted of refusal in relation to a drunk-driving charge.

If enacted, the legislation would take effect immediately.

The bill was released by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.