What does Washington’s implied consent law mean?

Although Washington states that drivers automatically agree to breath or blood testing in a DUI arrest, people do have the right to refuse.

Upon receiving a driver's license in the state of Washington, many people may feel a sense of freedom. It is also a great responsibility, as being at the wheel essentially means that the driver agrees to abide by the state's traffic laws or face the consequences.

Drivers typically know the obvious laws: stop at red lights and do not exceed the speed limit. There are other rules that some of which people may not be aware, such as the state's implied consent law. Here, we take a look at what that law means and the consequences of breaking it.

Implied consent

In Washington, every licensed driver inherently agrees to submit to either breath or blood tests upon being arrested on charges of DUI. In other words, in order to obey the law, a driver who is arrested for drunk driving must submit either a breath or a blood sample.

Refusing a test

It is within a driver's rights to refuse the test. It is important to note here that there are several ways in which a refusal may be explicit, or in which a law enforcement officer may interpret a driver as refusing a test. Those include the following:

  • The driver says outright, "I refuse."
  • The driver takes too long to decide to take the test.
  • The driver pretends to blow into a machine or otherwise purposefully tries to throw off the test.

In any case, the law enforcement officer must first clearly tell the driver about implied consent and the possible consequences, giving him or her the opportunity to weigh the decision.

Consequences of refusal

There are several possible outcomes to a driver refusing a breath or blood test. First, the refusal results in at least a one-year revocation or suspension of the person's driving license. Someone who has prior DUI convictions or who has had administrative license suspensions linked to a DUI could face longer revocation periods. Further, the refusal of the test is admissible in court as evidence against the driver.

When testing is mandatory

It is important to note that there are some exceptions to the "right of refusal" law. For example, if the driver was involved in an incident in which someone was killed or seriously injured, a test may be mandatory. Furthermore, if the driver is unconscious or deceased, law enforcement officers do not need consent in order to administer a test.

It may be difficult for drivers to decide whether or not to take a breath or blood test upon being arrested for a DUI. Anyone who has questions about this topic should speak to a criminal defense attorney in Washington.