Federal Roadside Survey: DUI Research Tool or Rights Violation?

For years a federal survey has been finding out just how many people out there are drinking and driving. But some are crying foul, despite the valuable information the survey is yielding.

In the NHTSA-sponsored National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving, drivers are selected at random and waved into a parking lot. There they are given a breathalyzer test, questioned about their drinking and driving habits, and offered money to provide saliva and blood samples. The samples aid research into use of prescription and illegal drugs as well as alcohol while driving.

NHTSA Roadside Survey ControversyNo one is arrested. The two words “voluntary” and “anonymous” are the survey’s catchwords. If a driver turns out to be DUI, they’re offered a ride home or put up in a hotel.

However, last December Ricardo Nieves of Reading, PA claimed that a government contractor stepped in front of his car and forced him into the parking lot. Nieves refused to answer questions and sued, calling the survey an abuse of power.” Catherine Roper of The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania told Newsmax that “there’s no sufficient reason for making people pull over and talk to government officials in the first place.” Fort Worth, Texas has withdrawn from the survey.

Among the survey’s supporters the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an auto insurance advocacy group. Its president, Adrian Lund, said “This is a very minimal intrusion on privacy.” He notes that the intention is to gather the information needed to reduce the number of DUI deaths on the road. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who are vocal advocates of ignition interlock programs and other anti-drunk driving measures, also support the survey.