Opinion: DUI reports needed for driver safety

J. A. McErlean

The tragic deaths of the Abbas family at the hands of a driver in Kentucky presumed to be intoxicated at the time of the incident should be considered a call to action.

The Abbas family.

As an Emergency Physician, I see DUI patients every shift. Some are involved in single- vehicle accidents. Others are the cause of multi-vehicle accidents with multiple injuries. Many are brought to the ER by state or local police who need a forensic-quality specimen as the basis for arrest and prosecution.

In Michigan, the only groups that will be aware of such an incident will be the insurance company, constabulary, and the DUI perpetrator himself. Any additional inquiries or access are protected by current HIPAA legislation.

This should change.

To bolster my argument, allow me to cite an actual case I encountered at a local hospital several years ago.

While on duty on a New Year's Eve, an EMS crew brought a woman in her late 30s who crashed her car on Interestate 94 and Gratiot Avenue. She was apprehended trying to climb the embankment in order to flee the scene. During transfer from the ambulance gurney to the ER bed, a crack pipe fell out of her right pants pocket. She reeked of alcohol, and her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.32 — four times the legal limit on intoxication in Michigan.

After a period of observation and I.V. hydration, she was discharged from the ER as if nothing had happened. Police never arrived, and as far as I could tell, there was no mandated reportage or documentation other than what I would entertain in the medical record. Had this been a case of child abuse, I would have been compelled by statute to fill out a number of forms, even mandated to call a state hotline in certain circumstances.

As a physician, I was gravely concerned. As a citizen, I was outraged that someone who put the public at risk by gross personal negligence could leave a medical facility with no recourse or prosecutorial interest.

So I contacted the Michigan Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving based in Midland, meeting the state director, Ken LaSalle, and made several subsequent trips to that location followed by three visits to their legislative sponsor in Lansing, Sen. William Van Regenmorter.

I learned that at that time, there were fourteen states that mandated reporting of DUI cases presenting to the ER, like we do for suspected cases of child abuse. Michigan had no such mandate.

Over the course of several months, State Senator William Van Regenmorter was able to craft a proposed bill that would provide for mandated reporting of DUI cases presenting to any ER in the state of Michigan, but this proposed legislation never made it out of committee.

The tragic deaths of the Abbas family at the hands of a drunken driver should be a call to action and that the legislation I tried to initiate many years ago now be revisited. I call on our newly elected legislature to work with MADD to implement this legislation for the benefit of all Michigan citizens.

J. A. McErlean is an emergency medicine physician living in Farmington Hills.