Governor Vetoes Legislation to Track Fatal Collisions Involving Drugs

SACRAMENTO – Assemblyman Bill Brough (R-Dana Point) has announced that Governor Gavin Newsom has vetoed his Assembly Bill 551 that would require law enforcement to drug test in cases of fatalities occurring within 48 hours of a traffic collision.

“Testing standards during fatal vehicle accidents has not been changed in over 25 years, this bill would have improved the forensic testing and data collected in these incidences,” said Assemblyman Brough. “Although this is not the outcome we wanted, I will continue to work on policies that keep our roads and communities safe.”

AB 551 was sponsored by Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes. Currently, Orange County is one of the few municipalities in the state that voluntarily test for drugs when investigating fatal collisions.

“The opioid epidemic and prevalence of drug use impacts the safety of our roads. The limited data on drugged driving does not give us a complete picture of the multi-faceted aspects of this challenge” said Sheriff Barnes. “AB 551 would have provided law enforcement with the data needed as we work to reduce DUIDs and unnecessary deaths caused by fatal collisions. My hope is that we can continue to work with the Legislature and Governor on achieving this important policy objective.”

Crime Laboratory Director for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department Regional Crime Laboratory, Jennifer Harmon, provided lead technical support during the legislative process and was previously the Assistant Director of Forensic Chemistry at the Orange County Crime Laboratory.

“As forensic scientists we cannot understand a problem, if there is a problem, let alone source solutions to fix it without meaningful data. AB 551 would have updated the government code to allow California the opportunity to collect data to understand drug prevalence in fatally-injured traffic safety related cases” said Harmon. “It additionally would have ensured that all decedents of traffic related incidents receive the same standard of testing throughout the state. Without a change in the code as proposed in AB 551, inconsistent testing and incomplete data will continue to be provided from California.”

California leads the nation in providing 10% of traffic fatality information to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which is the most of any state. AB 551 would have created a statewide standard for testing vehicle fatalities in order to ensure that all crucial information is collected during these incidences.