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How is a blood alcohol test performed?

Authorities often order a blood alcohol test following a serious traffic accident that involves death and/or catastrophic injury. They may even order a test if no one appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. This test -- depending on how quickly it was performed and if it was performed in accordance with legal standards -- can be a very accurate determiner of how drunk a particular driver was at the time a crash occurred.

Still, the procedure can seem quite invasive after the trauma of being in a car crash. Drivers may be rushed to the hospital following an accident and forced to allow nurses to draw blood. If the driver resists, then police and hospital staff might even restrain the driver, essentially strapping him or her down so the blood can be extracted. In many situations, the law says that authorities doe have the right to forcibly extract blood like this.

First, nurses will wrap the driver's upper arm with an elastic band, which stops the blood flow. The veins will then expand slightly, making them easier to see, so the nurse can insert the needle. The insertion site will first be cleaned with an antiseptic solution, and then the needle will be inserted. Hopefully, the first insertion will be successful, but sometimes a driver will get stuck multiple times before it works. Next, a tube will be attached to the needle, which is filled with blood.

When sufficient blood is collected, a cotton ball will be placed around the needle and the needle will be removed. Pressure will be put on the insertion site for several moments and then a bandage. Finally, the driver's blood will be taken to the lab for analysis. When blood tests like this are appropriately performed, the results can be conclusive as to an individual's state of inebriation.

However, South Carolina drivers might defend against a failed blood alcohol test depending on the answers to some important questions: 1) When was the blood test performed in relation to the time of the accident? 2) Does the blood test disagree with breathalyzer and/or field sobriety tests performed immediately following the accident? 3) Did law enforcement have sufficient cause and/or a warrant to perform the test? By answering these and other questions, drivers may be able to build a viable defense against their DUI charges, even in the event of a failed blood alcohol test.

Source: WebMD, "Blood alcohol," accessed Jan. 14, 2016

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