Reading, PA- The federal government along routinely conducts roadside surveys to collect data on impaired driving and they use that data to craft legislation and public service campaigns. Even though the federal government has been conducting these surveys from two to three decades, but there is new controversy surrounding the surveys with critics claiming they are an invasion of privacy.
One such critic is a Reading, Pennsylvania, city council candidate, Ralph Nieves, who was pulled over for one of these surveys last December. He is now suing the federal government over the roadside survey which he says is an abuse of power, and didn’t appear to be voluntary.
The roadside survey is actually conducted by a federal contractor, Maryland-based Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledges there have been concerns about how the survey is conducted since 2007.
The purpose of the survey is to determine the alcohol and drug usage of motorists who don’t have to fear they will be charged and prosecuted for DUI. In the 60 cities where the survey is conducted, contractors set up sites similar to sobriety checkpoints and ask motorists if they would like to participate in the survey. Motorists who agree are given $10 to take a breathalyzer, and those willing to take give a cheek swab and fill out a questionnaire are paid an average of $50.
These surveys sound like a good idea to traffic safety advocates like MADD and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. These surveys are supposed to be completely voluntary and there are no legal ramifications for participating, but Nieves said it didn’t feel voluntary.
He told the Associated Press when he was stopped for the survey; an official stepped in front of his car and forced him into a parking lot to participate in the survey. He was asked he was just herded into a parking lot; this is not how it is supposed to work and drivers should be allowed to refuse.
The Associated Press pointed out that the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation pays their employees bonuses according to the number of people they coerce into taking the tests. Employees who failed to convince motorists to participate are let go.
President of Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, Adrian Lund said the roadside survey is important and helps agencies understand if legislation is working to keep impaired drivers off the road. He said it was a “minimal invasion of privacy” that was outweighed by the information the survey can provide.
Nieves disagrees and believes the tests are a violation of his constitutional rights and is fighting to have them halted, though it is unclear if a court is going to agree.
“The Fourth Amendment clearly states that I’m allowed to go about my business without government intrusion, that I’m allowed to go about freely where I need to go,” Nieves said.
While Nieves is right in some respect, the government can stop a person at a sobriety checkpoint any time they see fit. Almost all states with the exception of Texas allow police officers to set up a checkpoint which allows them to ensnare drunken drivers. In these cases any test you are asked to take are voluntary, but refusal has serious consequences.