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SAT-017: Driver BAC Testing in Fatal Accidents

Driver BAC Testing in Fatal Accidents: The Wisconsin Medical Society supports the following updated guidelines for withdrawing blood for chemical testing in order to assist law enforcement personnel:

  • Physicians are urged to cooperate with law enforcement personnel when they request or direct that a blood specimen be obtained. Refusal to obey such direction from one known to be a law enforcement officer may be a criminal violation if the physician has no reasonable excuse to refuse (Wis. Stat, 946.40 – see Atty. Gen. Opinion 209, 1979).
  • The physician must make an independent medical decision whether the obtaining of the blood specimen is safe under the circumstances and can be done under medically acceptable conditions. Drawing blood under medically unacceptable conditions may constitute a basis for claiming negligence in performance of the test. The roadside, the interior of a motor vehicle or a jail cell will not generally qualify as medically acceptable conditions.
  • Wisconsin statutes do not address the reasonableness of obtaining blood from a person who requires restraint to make this possible. The United States Supreme Court (Schmerber v. California) ruled that blood could be withdrawn from a person who refused the test and resisted its performance so long as “inappropriate force” was not used.
  • Law enforcement officers requesting the withdrawal of blood for alcohol testing should submit their request to a health care facility or professional in writing. It is recommended that the physician performing or ordering the blood withdrawal attempt to obtain written consent of the person to be tested, but the law enforcement officer’s request to obtain the test should be honored whether or not the subject consents to the test.
  • Police agencies that may desire blood specimens for such chemical testing are urged to make prior arrangements with physicians and/or hospitals so that procedures can be agreed on to minimize the potential for misunderstanding when the test is needed.
  • Withdrawing blood for chemical blood testing should be required for all drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle (including boat, ATV and snowmobile) crashes. (HOD, 0411)*

*Currently under five-year policy review.