Government officials at all levels are currently under fire after drivers from across the country have complained about coercive and even illegal efforts to force them into submitting to drug and alcohol tests. The tests are part of the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving, which is being conducted in more than 60 cities across the country.
The NRSADD has been conducted five times since the early 1970s and is a way that federal officials estimate what percentage of American drivers are either drunk or otherwise impaired when behind the wheel. Policymakers say that the survey is one of the most important ways to understand what goes on across American roadways and what actions should be taken to protect innocent drivers.
However, many others are upset with the survey and claim that it amounts to an unconstitutional violation of drivers’ privacy. The survey works by randomly choosing drivers who are then asked to pull over in a parking lot and answer questions about drinking and driving. They are also asked to take a Breathalyzer test and are then given the option of answering more detailed questions and providing either a blood or saliva sample for money. The survey is supposed to be voluntary and the results are anonymous. Officials say drunk drivers are offered rides home or allowed to sleep it off in a local hotel for free.
Ricardo Nieves is one of several people suing private contractors hired by the government to conduct the survey. Nieves says that he was driving to visit his mother one afternoon when a contractor stepped out into the roadway and forced his car over into a nearby parking lot. Once he was in the parking lot, another employee conducted a breath test, asked him questions about his drinking behavior and then asked for a mouth swab to check for drugs. Nieves says he refused to submit to the oral swab and has now filed suit against the company for what he says are its illegal actions.
Civil rights advocates have been suspicious of the survey for a long time, claiming that the government contractors and local police departments often go too far when seeking participants. As a result of previous trouble, dozens of police departments have said they will no longer cooperate with the survey. Legislators in Tennessee went so far as unanimously passing a measure that would prohibit all police departments in the state from assisting with the study.
Though sobriety checkpoints have been approved by the Supreme Court, many argue that the study should not be allowed to continue. The Supreme Court has said that the government’s interest in stopping drunk driving is so great it outweighs the minor inconvenience of briefly stopping and questioning drivers. However, the ACLU points out that there is no such interest in this case given that the study does not aim to remove unsafe drivers from the road; instead, it aims to merely collect data about them.
For their part, the private contractors and law enforcement agencies that participate in the survey say that they make clear from the very beginning that the survey is voluntary. Additionally, they say that lawsuits challenging the survey should be thrown out for lack of specific damages. How courts will handle the cases remains to be seen, but you can bet those on both sides of the issue will watch it closely.
Source: “Motorists criticize federal study of drunk driving,” by Michael Rubinkam, published at Yahoo.com.