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Each day in the United States, approximately 28 people die as a result of car accidents that involve at least one alcohol-impaired driver. And that is just the fatal accidents. There are many other drunk driving crashes that result in injuries or property damage. It's likely most drivers will at some point in their lives encounter an impaired driver on the road and possibly involved in a drunk driving car accident.
Police officers and highway patrol officers only have the ability to stop vehicles that they reasonably suspect may be involved in criminal activity. For example, officers might notice drivers straddling the center line, drifting from one lane to another or driving erratically. However, when an accident occurs, the collision itself is enough reasonable suspicion that a law may have been broken, and an officer has the ability to stop the people involved in the accident and begin an investigation.
In fact, a car crash is enough reason for an officer to glance inside the vehicle to look for any evidence of drunk driving that is in plain view, such as an open alcohol container. The officer could also look at the driver's eyes for further indication that the driver is impaired. Either of these pieces of visual evidence gives the officer on the scene reasonable suspicion to investigate the situation further by ordering a field sobriety or a blood alcohol test.
With reasonable suspicion that criminal activity has taken place, such as open containers in a car or erratic behavior of a driver, police officers will often administer a field sobriety test. This procedure typically has three parts and allows the on-site officer to determine the driver’s current balance, attention level and physical ability to drive a vehicle. When a driver fails a field sobriety test, he or she is often asked for a blood alcohol content, or BAC, test.
Some states have laws in place that require BAC testing of any drivers, passengers or pedestrians when they are involved in a fatal accident; other states leave the testing up to the discretion of the on-scene officer. Required testing, known as mandatory testing, requires that anyone who is fatally injured in an automobile accident is given a BAC assessment. On the other hand, in some states, discretionary testing allows medical examiners and other officials to make the determination of whether BAC testing is necessary following a fatal accident.
Each state decides independently whether or not it will use mandatory or discretionary testing. For example, Texas relies on discretionary testing that allows the justice of the peace to order a BAC test on deceased drivers who appear to have been impaired. New York and California both follow mandatory testing for any fatally injured pedestrians or drivers. Some states, like Florida and Virginia, do not have any specific laws governing BAC testing.
Drunk driving is a crime whether or not the person behind the wheel causes any property damage, injuries or fatalities. That means if someone is caught, arrested and found guilty of driving under the influence, there are a number of different penalties that can be assessed. From imprisonment, to the loss of a driver’s license, to thousands of dollars in fines and fees, drunk driving can be a very expensive mistake.
In general, the driver in a drunk driving accident is held responsible for all injuries and property damages that occur as a result of recklessly operating a vehicle while under the influence. With the use of field sobriety tests, on-site breathalyzers and blood alcohol content tests, it is not very difficult to prove the intoxication of a drunk driver. In fact, these tests are usually administered just to confirm the amount of alcohol present in the driver’s system at the time of the crash rather than to prove the driver’s culpability.
In addition to criminal liability, most drunk drivers will face civil liability, especially in the case of a serious auto accident that causes injuries or death. These lawsuits can come from the victims themselves or from the victims’ families, and they can be just as destructive to a person as a criminal case. Many drivers find themselves unable to get insurance in the future and devastated by payments to the victims or their families.
Drivers involved in drunk driving car accidents should speak to a DUI attorney understand their options. Both defendants and victims of a drunk driving accident can benefit from legal advice. These individuals may be entitled to some financial compensation for their injuries and damages that occurred as the result of the accident.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drunk driving lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drunk driving attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.