Implied Consent

A couple weeks ago, I finally took my 5-hour pre-licensing course with a suitemate of mine in Fairport, NY. Now, spending 5 hours of your Sunday afternoon learning the rules of the road instead of doing your homework or essentially anything else is tedious in nature. My only solace was watching my suitemate, a Long Island native, scrunch her face up in confusion whenever someone mentioned Ayrault Road or gave any reference to passive driving. However, some productivity did arise from this class (aside from the certificate)–we learned the rules of “implied consent”.

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for awhile now. Ever since we started reading Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet Washington, consent has been a prevalent topic in our class discussions, and for good reason. This term struck me, in particular, because it’s now so familiar to me. We’re so used to seeing it in the context of an individual’s rights being violated. However, this is where the situation changes, and I’m not sure everyone is aware of the “implied consent” laws. Most people don’t pay attention in their 5-hour classes anyways.

Your right to deny a breathalyzer test is relinquished when you apply for a driver’s license. If you choose to deny this test, you may not be charged with a DUI, but in New York State your driver’s license will be suspended for 6-months, and there’s a possibility that you will be fined $500. What we might forget here is that driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs puts others’ lives at risk, and victims certainly don’t consent to being harmed or killed in these types of car accidents. So essentially, by signing up for a driver’s license, we’re losing some rights in order to protect the rights of others.

The difference between the type of non-consent in novels such as Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson and Home by Toni Morrison is that the victims were innocent in regard to the harm done to their bodies and lives. They didn’t agree to it, and they didn’t want it.

This reminds me, however, that sometimes waiving the right to consent to specific actions, such as the breathalyzer test, is probably in everyone’s best interest. I doubt anyone wants to be charged with a DUI and vehicular manslaughter. While consent in some situations is critical, we must remember than this doesn’t apply to them all.

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