Since the 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has funded research projects through the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. Both have recently come under popular outrage for a series of surveys utilizing sheriff and police officers to divert motorists into lots where they are subjected to Breathalyzer tests, cheek swabs and blood samples. Results in previous decades have led to the decrease in legal BAC limits, and have dramatically reduced the number of impaired drivers on the roadways at any given time.
Surveys have taken place recently in 2003, and 2007. Those occurring this year also include drug testing. According to NHTSA, the 2007 study showed over 16% of those tested were positive for illicit substances. NHTSA and PIRE hope these studies will allow for more stringent drug and alcohol legislation, reducing the number of annual traffic deaths.
In 2007, 60 test sites were chosen. According to Richard Compton, Director, Office of Behavioral Safety Research at NHTSA, the same number have been selected for this round of surveys. Data collection should be complete within a few weeks, he says.
Compton goes onto insist that all survey data is completely anonymous, and any participation is entirely voluntary. The officers that are present are merely there to assist in the direction of traffic and maintain safety on the roadways. They are specifically informed of the anonymous nature of the survey. Participants that choose to allow for sample collection are required to sign informed consent forms, thus negating any constitutional rights to privacy. No explanation was provided for PIRE use of passive Breathalyzers. These measuring implements are often concealed from participants, and measurements are taken without their knowledge or consent.
The response to the PIRE studies has been mixed. According to Compton
In our last national roadside survey the vast majority of drivers who entered our survey site (over 10,000) chose to participate in the survey. Many volunteer participants were very complimentary about the survey and expressed the opinion that they felt the government should be doing more to remove impaired drivers from our nation’s roads. As someone who has personally observed data collection at a number of these survey sites, it is often surprising to see a line of motorists, who have parked their cars and gotten out of them, and are waiting their turn for the blood draw by one of our nurses at 2:00 am in the morning. These people are typically quite civic minded and cheerful.
Social media has seen a firestorm erupt in outrage for perceived police state oversteps. These sentiments were mirrored in a survey conducted by al.com after a June data collection overseen by PIRE. In that survey, over 90% of respondents claimed they would not submit to any such data collection. Less than 7% of respondents answered that they would consent to be surveyed. The question included the monetary compensation PIRE participants receive for offering saliva or blood samples.
NHTSA assures us that all samples received are destroyed once measurements are successfully recorded.