Critics Say 'Voluntary' Traffic Survey Feels Compulsory

[caption id="attachment_3797" align="alignleft" width="211"]Image Credit: NHTSA Image Credit: NHTSA[/caption] Since 1973, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted a periodic National Roadside Survey in which drivers are stopped, asked questions about drug and alcohol use, and given a breathalyzer test. The federal agency has conducted roadside surveys 1973, 1986, 1996, 2007, and 2013. However, in its last two iterations, contractors have asked for not only voluntary information and breath analysis, but also saliva and blood samples. This move has prompted outrage from civil libertarians in cities where the survey was conducted. Contractors conducted the survey with help from off-duty, uniformed officers in 30 to 60 cities across the nation, including Oklahoma City. Drivers who submitted to questioning and a breathalyzer test did so without remuneration, but drivers who submitted saliva samples were paid $10, and drivers who provided blood samples were paid $50. The NHTSA and supporters of the program, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) point out that the survey is, in fact, voluntary, and therefore does not infringe on anyone's rights. They assert that the information gleaned from these roadblocks is critical for understanding and reducing impaired driving. Opponents say that while the survey is voluntary, it does not feel voluntary. Most drivers, when flagged down by a uniformed officer, believe that they are obligated to stop and to comply with any requests. Some drivers reported that even when they indicated that they wanted to leave, they felt pressured to stay. One woman says that when she pointed ahead, saying that she wished to move on, she was forced into a parking space. She was then asked to submit breath, saliva, or blood samples. She says that she felt "trapped," and submitted to a breath test because she believed that it would be the quickest, least invasive way to be let go. While the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has reported no complaints with the survey, citizens and law enforcement in other cities were angry about the test. The Fort Worth Police Department issued an apology to drivers who were inconvenienced by the roadblock, and St. Charles County (Missouri) Sheriff Tom Neer told reporters his department was "duped" by the contractor, who said that his deputies would only be used to provide on-site security: "We will not cooperate with one of these federal checkpoints again, and we would not have contracted with the subcontractor on this one if we had known in advance that our officers would be asked to flag down motorists." It is important to understand your rights in a traffic stop, not only to preserve your civil liberties, but also to protect yourself from unreasonable search and seizure and unlawful arrest. If you have been arrested for DUI, drug possession, or gun violations after a traffic stop, contact an attorney who can evaluate the circumstances of the stop, the search, and the arrest in order to develop an effective defense strategy. Learn more on our criminal defense website.