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New Texas Law Allowing Police-ordered Blood Draws Has Long History in Florida

A recent story in The Houston Chronicle discussed the implications of a new Texas law that allows police to order blood draws from individuals they suspect of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Previously, police were required to obtain a search warrant from a judge before ordering the test. The law goes into effect on September 1.

Though the law is causing some controversy, particularly among defense attorneys, it is not without precedent in the United States. Many states, including Florida, allow police to order the withdrawal of blood from a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) suspect without a warrant from a judge.

Despite widespread defensive driving education programs and law enforcement efforts to curb drinking and driving, the problem still causes many fatalities in both states every year. In Texas, the use of alcohol or drugs while driving causes 28% of fatal crashes and is the second most common contributing factor for crashes, according to the state's driver handbook.

Florida Traffic Crash Statistics show that there were 22,823 alcohol-related and 1,252 drug-related motor vehicle crashes, resulting in a combined 1,446 deaths and 17,160 injuries, in that state in 2007. Thirty-nine percent of traffic fatalities were alcohol-related.

Nationwide, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate that in 2007, drivers who had a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher who were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes were eight times more likely to have a previous conviction for driving while impaired than drivers who had no alcohol in their systems. The most frequently-recorded BAC level for drivers who had been drinking and were involved in fatal crashes was .16.

The new Texas law is much less far-reaching than current Florida law, which allows law enforcement officers to order a blood test under any circumstances when use of an impairing substance while driving is suspected. Under the terms of the Texas law, police are only allowed to do so in particular circumstances, such as when the suspect is a repeat offender, a passenger in the vehicle is killed, or a child under the age of 15 is a passenger in the vehicle.

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Florida DUI law also allows police to pursue the withdrawal of a blood sample "by authorized medical personnel with the use of reasonable force by the arresting officer" if the DUI involves serious injury or a fatality. Also, an individual who is unconscious or otherwise unable to refuse the test is presumed to have given consent to the test under the state's Implied Consent law.

Although states have been struggling with how to reduce motor vehicle crashes caused by drinking and driving for many years, national statistics indicate that that there is still much work to be done. NHTSA statistics indicate that an alcohol-impaired-driving fatality occurs every 40 minutes in the United States.

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