Being pulled over for drunk driving may soon mean having the police draw your blood against your will. And it won’t be a doctor, nurse or paramedic sticking the needle in your arm. No, the blood will be drawn by the police officer right there at the side of the road.
Think this can’t happen in America? Think again. In Arizona such blood draws have not only been happening but have been encouraged for more than a decade. Now, based on a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this practice is about to be expanded and may eventually be common practice in all 50 states.
According to an Associated Press article, “a select cadre of officers in Idaho and Texas has received in recent months to draw blood from those suspected of drunken or drugged driving. The federal program’s aim is to determine if blood draws by cops can be an effective tool against drunk drivers and aid in their prosecution.”
Why is this happening? It has to do with the belief that every drunk driving arrest should result in a drunk driving conviction. The problem arose when the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was permissible for law enforcement to use force, if necessary, to compel an impaired driving suspect to take a BAC test (Schmerber v California, 1966). In this case, the suspect fled the scene of a crash involving serious injury to a young child and then refused to cooperate with a request to take a BAC test.
As a result many States passed implied consent laws that allow drunk driving suspects to refuse to allow their breath to be tested. According to NHTSA “Since the effect of these laws is to authorize BAC test refusal, where otherwise no such right exists, they have created the BAC test refusal problem.”
NHTSA’s answer is to train officers to draw blood by force at the roadside. According to the Associated Press article “[O]fficers can’t hold down a suspect and force them to breath into a tube, she noted, but they can forcefully take blood — a practice that’s been upheld by Idaho’s Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Michigan’s courts have also said that the police may force drunk drivers to give blood. In fact, Michigan’s police may use the infliction of pain to force a drunk driver to succumb to the blood test request.
The name of this 1997 case is People v. Hanna, and it is described in detail in Defending Drinking Drivers, sec. 155.2. In this case Michigan’s appeals court found that the police may use the pain compliance device called a “Do Rite stick” to force an intoxicate driver to give blood.
It is NHTSA’s plan is to train police nationwide to begin drawing blood by force. But, there are many problems. First among them is the possibility of injury or infection. Then there is the problem of fear. About 10% of the population suffers from fear of needles. The medical term for this fear is trypanophobia.
According to Wikipedia, trypanophobia was officially recognized in 1994 in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th edition) as a specific phobia of blood/injection/injury type. Phobic level responses to injections cause sufferers to avoid inoculations, blood tests, and in the more severe cases, all medical care.
One of the possible reactions is a vaso-vagal response. The physiological changes associated with this type of trypanophobia also include feeling faint, sweating, nausea, pallor, tinnitus, panic attacks, and initially high blood pressure and heart rate followed by a plunge in both at the moment of injection.
Although most phobias are dangerous to some degree, trypanophobia is one of the few that actually kills. In cases of severe trypanophobia, the drop in blood pressure caused by the vaso-vagal shock reflex may cause death.
The great irony here is that the purpose of drunk driving laws is to prevent death. Here, in a great twist of fate, our government is encouraging drunk driving enforcement that may itself cause death.