Can I Be Forced to Take a Drug Test After an Accident?

If a responding police officer sees some indication that drug or alcohol use played a part in your car accident, you might face some form of testing.

By , J.D.

When you're involved in a traffic accident, there's a lot to think about right off the bat. Getting medical attention for anyone who needs it is concern number one, but it's also important to watch what you say at the scene of the accident, make an effort to preserve evidence where possible, and exchange information with anyone else involved in the crash. And if local police or sheriff's department officers come to the scene, you'll need to co-operate with them and answer their questions. But will you have to undergo some kind of drug or sobriety test?

When a Police Officer Comes to a Car Accident Scene

Depending on where a car accident takes place, and the policies of local agencies, a law enforcement officer may or may not come to the scene of your crash. But in most instances, if there are car accident injuries and the crash is reported, an officer will show up.

The first thing to know is that, when a police officer comes to the scene, drug or alcohol testing of the drivers involved in the crash is not standard protocol. Of course, special circumstances may exist. For example, if you got into a car accident while "on the clock", you and your employer may have entered into a prior agreement under which employees agree to submit to drug testing after any job-related vehicle accident (since the employer may be liable for a car accident based on a legal theory known as "vicarious liability").

Having said that, if the officer suspects that someone involved in the accident may have been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the procedural rules become the same as those for a standard traffic stop.

If the Police Officer Suspects DUI

A number of factors might lead a police officer to legitimately suspect that impaired driving may have played a role in the car accident -- one of the drivers is exhibiting slurred speech or reeks of marijuana, for example, or there is a half-empty liquor bottle or half-smoked joint in plain view.

So, based on this suspicion (called "probable cause" in legalese) the officer may ask the driver to submit to a Breathalyzer test at the scene, or a urine or blood test at a secondary location.

Refusing the Sobriety Test

As with a routine traffic stop, you have the legal right to refuse to submit to such testing. But refusing to submit to the test does not mean that you cannot be arrested for, and later convicted of, driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), whatever the offense is called in your state. If there is ample independent of your intoxication and its effect on your driving ability, test results may not be necessary.

What's more, your refusal to submit to testing can carry its own consequences under "implied consent" laws, which are in place in every state. These laws say that, through the act of operating a motor vehicle, drivers have implicitly agreed to submit to chemical testing for drug or alcohol intoxication when a law enforcement officer has a "probable cause" belief that a DUI/DWI has occurred.

So, under implied consent laws, you're free to refuse drug and alcohol testing, but that refusal alone will open you up to penalties such as driver's license suspension and other sanctions (depending on where you live). And since you can still be convicted of DUI/DWI without chemical testing, the sanctions associated with an implied consent law violation can come on top of the criminal conviction and other consequences of a DUI.

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