‘Eddie’s Law’ Could Save Lives

Recently, the New York State Senate passed a bill meant to address the low percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who are tested for drugs and alcohol. According to a 2004 federal report examining state laws and practices for blood-alcohol testing for drivers involved in fatal crashes, New York state ranked third from the bottom, with only 3.9 percent of drivers tested.

The Senate bill, S1446-2013, does not require law enforcement to request every driver involved in a fatal or serious-injury car accident submit to a chemical test, but it does expand the reasonable standard for law enforcement to make the request. If the bill becomes law, every fatal or serious-injury car accident automatically would meet the reasonable-suspicion test for law enforcement to request the chemical test. If a driver refuses to submit to the test, police can go to a court for a warrant.

Currently, the law requires law-enforcement officials to meet a more difficult standard before requesting a chemical test, particularly in cases when a driver might be under the influence of prescription drugs and may not show outward signs of impairment.

While the Senate’s approach still allows for discretion on the part of law enforcement, it would be a good start toward ensuring more testing in cases of fatal and serious-injury car accidents.

Some people locally have taken to calling the proposed law “Eddie’s Law” in honor of Edward Lakata, a Johnstown musician and engineer, who was killed June 25 when he was struck by a pickup truck driven by John Damphier, then 48. Damphier was not chemical-tested or issued any tickets after the accident, but he later was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs after a separate incident Aug. 1. A civil lawsuit has been filed against Damphier by Lakata’s family. “Eddie’s Law” would be a fitting name for the Senate bill.

The measure was submitted to the Democratically controlled state Assembly March 25, but it remains in committee. We hope the Assembly will consider the legislation because it has the potential to be an important deterrent to driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.