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Government forcing on-the-spot blood tests on drivers

Step out of the car, sir, and roll up your sleeve

By Andrew B. Einhorn Sep 14 2009, 01:15 PM

Roadside blood tests?

Roadside blood tests?

A new federal program run through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may soon make it legal and commonplace for cops nationwide to forcibly take blood samples from drivers suspected of driving while intoxicated.

The program, now being piloted in Idaho and Texas, was designed as an attempt to combat suspected drunk drivers who refuse to take breathalyzer tests. Often, the lack of evidence forces the drunk driving case to go to trial — a long and expensive process.

Although a number of states have proposed mandatory sentences, such as driver's license suspension, for those who refuse to take breathalyzers, 22 percent of suspected drunk drivers still refuse the test nationally, according to a NHTSA study.

Given the difficulty of trying to force a suspect to breathe into the breathalyzer tube, the NHTSA and law enforcement officials are working together to test what they perceive as a better solution — forcing drunk and drugged driving suspects into giving over their blood for lab testing to determine levels of intoxication. 

The invasive practice drums up a number of important questions. At a basic level, one wonders how penetrating the veins of an innocent-until-proven-guilty suspect and extracting a bodily possession from them against their will is not unconstitutional? How is this not an illegal search and seizure, as protected by the Fourth Amendment?

Amazingly, according to a 1966 Supreme Court ruling, the practice was deemed constitutional so long as the blood draw was based on probable cause that the suspect was in fact intoxicated, that it was done after arrest, and that is was executed in a medically approved manner.

Of course, the argument does not entirely hold up within the context of this new federal pilot program. For one, the police officers in Idaho and Texas that are part of this new program are drawing blood from suspects in various scenarios. While they are trained quickly to do this, anyone who has been in the hospital for a few days can tell you that even the best trained nurses often can't seem to find a vein on the first try. As a result, the suspect, who is still innocent in our courts of law at this point, would be involuntarily subjected to multiple puncture wounds at the whim of an unsupervised police officer.

Does anyone else find this a terrible idea?

Over the years, we've all laid witness to abuses of power and incidents of brutality by police officers. Are we to assume that by granting them additional rights to invade a person's body against their will on a mere hunch, we'll all miraculously become a safer, better society? Are we to assume that some officers won't use this new power for the mere intentional infliction of emotional distress, or simply liberally apply the technique without just cause? How would you feel having to give blood after having just one drink that night?

It's amazing what many are willing to give up of their civil liberties in the name of security. Say what you will about warrantless wiretapping — also investigative action on a hunch — at least it didn't involve penetrating the innards of human beings.

Another important question that arises over this program has to do with the varying medical reactions many have to needles, blood draws and blood loss. Such reactions may include vomiting, nausea, dizziness, fainting, and undue psychological distress, all of which can cause more serious medical problems these officers are not trained or equipped to handle that we as taxpayers will end up paying for after the lawsuits are settled.

It's not difficult to picture a scenario in which a suspect is held down for a blood draw that causes him to vomit. But a restrained person, unable to move and pinned down onto his own back, could vomit into his own lungs and asphyxiate or die from the bacteria exposure. Similarly, a fainting person could strike their head, which would be all the more deadly if they did in fact have alcohol in their system, as their alcohol-thinned blood would bleed out more profusely. And of course there is the issue of medical sanitation, wound care, potential for infection, and the possibility of sample mix-ups and mislabeling, both in the field and in the lab.

While few can argue that drunk and drugged driving isn't a major problem in this country, the answer to keeping others on the road safe does not lie in the hands of a police officer with road rage, shaky hands, restraints, and a long syringe. If a driver is unwilling to blow into a Breathalyzer, they ought to have their license suspended for a mandatory period. This would keep repeat offenders off the roads. If new methods of testing are in fact needed, our resources should go towards non-invasive methods, like saliva sampling or a pupil dilation scan, that does not imbue our society with more opportunities for police brutality or violations of personal privacy rights.  If we are to profess to be the freest country in the world, we need to walk the talk.

Read More: Transportation (DOT), Privacy, Law And Order, Outrages, What The Gov, Idaho, Texas


Sarah Bain
September 14, 2009 10:37 PM

I was not aware that this was even on the radar in some states until I read this article. It is shocking to think that this type of pollicy could be implemented and accepted by the public, let alone successfull. This plan poses incredible risk to both driver and officer, in addition to being a gross violation of one's person, constitutionally and physically. As a physician, I agree completely with Mr. Einhorn/s comments. In addtion to his arguments, I also want to bring attention to the fact that drawing blood from a possibly combative stranger in an uncontrolled environment puts the officer at high risk for exposure to blood borne disease including HIV, Hep B/C etc.. I for one would think that the officers themselves would be against this plan for this reason. While i realize that people are desperate to combat drunk driving, this is certainly not the way to go about it as it poses potentially high risk consequences to all involved.

September 15, 2009 2:01 AM

Just tell the cop you might be HIV positive. What a truly STUPID idea.

Chris Wardle
September 15, 2009 11:58 AM

I am glad to see, that so far, people are against police officers having this much power. I come from a police officer rich family and feel that my security is very valuable. However, i do not belive that even the best of trained officer should be allowed to draw blood on the hood of a car, in the back seat of a car, or even in the field. In AZ, there is a DUI van with blood draw chairs and other items that make it "safer," however, the chain of command from the time your blood leaves your arm is all within the states hands... There are so many issues with this process that it makes it nearly impossible to prove your not guilty, especially when they can convict you of being impared to the slightest degree at any BAC level... Its at the officer discretion.

Traumatized in Texas
September 15, 2009 5:01 PM

After having one glass of wine with dinner in Texas on Friday, Sept. 4, I feel my life will never be the same. I pulled out of a restaurant and went around a car in the middle of a dark street when a police officer immediately pulled me over. I had no idea what I had done as there was no time to signal for a lane change- which is why he says he stopped me. I passed all of the field sobriety tests as I was obviously not even close to being impaired- much less intoxicated when he suddenly pulled me from the ground after putting my shoes back on and was slapped with handcuffs. My fiance' watched in horror as he was then pulled out of the car and arrested. We had no idea what was going on until we arrived at the city jail where we were separated. I was then taken to a room with a breathalyzer and did not refuse- I just asked what my rights were- as they were never told to me. The officer grabbed me and told me I was out of time where I was escorted into a room and told that I screwed up and was really in trouble now. I was crying uncontrollably and strapped into a chair that looks like an electricution chair- my arm was grabbed and a needle was stuck in me- all without me knowing what was going on. I was horrified while the eight police officers and staff in the room laughed and thought it was funny. Then I was handed a piece of paper where all of the information was fabricated- said I couldn't stand up and that my car smelled strongly of alcohol. It's not even possible as I had one glass of wine at the restaurant with dinner! I was then taken outside by the police officer by himself and told that he was "going to get me" because I said the statements were lies. I was then transported to the city jail where women are processed for the most unbearable, traumatic and horrific night of my life. I am a 45 year old professional female with a nine year old daughter (who was not in the car) that has never broken the law- unless you count a few speeding tickets. I spent 18 excruciating hours being harrassed and abused by jailers that got a big kick out of a white woman being in jail. I sat on the floor in a 6X10 foot cell with urine, blood, sweat and other bodily fluids from prostitutes, crack addicts and murderers. The phones are only collect call phones-my parent's phone numbers were in my cell phone which had been taken away so I was devastated. Just because I asked if I could get a phone number from my cell phone, the jailer that took my fingerprints told me I was crazy and that I needed to shut up because I was making her crazy- when I asked one questions. I was denied water, toilet paper, and the ability to make a simple phone call. It was the worst night of my life and I have been crying for days. I finally got out by remembering my ex-husband's father's land line phone number as you cannot call cell phones from the jail phones. Animals in cages are treated with more respected and I feel that I was stripped of all of my dignity. They would not give me toilet paper to wipe my behind and there was no running water. I'm a professional that has been unemployed since January due to the recession. I can barely make it through the day without crying, much less go on job interviews for Director level positions which is where my experience lies. We are still waiting on the results of the blood test- God only knows how the blood was handled and where it went. It has now been 11 days and we have had to postpone my court appearance. The DSP is still going to suspend my license- even if the case is dismissed...all because the police officer said there was probable cause to pull me over. I did NOT refuse the breathalyzer either- amazing how he got everything else on video but that conversation! I'm so distraught that it is difficult to function. I'm financially, emotionally and physically just exhausted. This is going to cost me a fortune and I've not had a job in almost a year.

Less Is More
September 15, 2009 10:19 PM

Wow!  This is unbelievable.  The US is becoming more and more like many dictatorial countries where you are locked up, subjected to abuse of authority and little you can do about it because there's no such thing as innocent until proven guilty.  I would absolutely die of a heart attack if I were subjected to this.  Medical professionals can't find veins on me.  It's such violation of your person.  Cops are misusing tasers and now you're going to give them needles?

September 20, 2009 7:09 PM

We are in a "police state" just like every other "police state" in the world, except we have more subtle forms of coercion and corruption that is more often hidden from view than people realize.  It is absurd to think that, at a minimum, an AA degree is required to be a lab tech drawing blood on a regular basis and here, we seem to be empowering police officers, where only a high school diploma is required and some "academy" training, to draw blood occasionally.  Personally, I feel as I should walk with an implanted 24x7 audio-video recorder that store the data in an off-shore data center where the it would be difficult for any government functionary or agency to get at... and where I would have a detailed rebuttal to anything the "state" showed as evidence in a case of "he-said she-said" and edited video tapes... at the very least, Andy AV materials collected during a traffic stop should be, by default, available in full, unedited format to the accused.  There is no protection for that which we provide ourselves by watching the watchers...

September 21, 2009 2:58 PM

Did the Soviets or Nazi's do road-side blood tests for any reason? If so I am sure that we would have read about it. Jason the Fed

February 13, 2010 3:04 AM

This would have to be one of the most dangerous ideas.  Needles in the hands of police.  Just one more method of taking our rights away slowly enough so that eventually we will not have any rights at all.












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