The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been charged with the noble goal of reducing the number of preventable accidents that occur on American roadways annually. But simply because its goals are worthy does not necessarily mean that the NHTSA’s methods are beyond reproach.
Currently, the NHTSA is conducting a nationwide study aimed at better understanding the prevalence of drunk driving and drugged driving in an effort to reduce related accidents. Those conducting the study are gathering data by setting up roadblocks in various geographies. When stopped at these roadblocks, motorists are asked about their drug and alcohol use and are offered money for providing samples of blood, breath and/or saliva.
Even though motorists are given compensation for their samples and are not cited criminally if they have illegal substances in their systems, the study is creating a great deal of controversy. The study is being seen by many as evidence of an intrusive government which fails to utilize more standardized methods to obtain information about its citizens.
Of particular concern is the fact that many individuals administering the study are members of law enforcement. Even though the research is being conducted on a voluntary basis, many citizens may not understand that the program is voluntary or may not feel that they can refuse when a police officer is requesting samples of their bodily fluids.
Just as the criminal justice system must balance the rights of those accused with public safety, the NHTSA must balance public safety with the rights of motorists whom it wishes to survey. Enlisting law enforcement to set up roadblocks and request biological samples may not be the best way to achieve this balance.
Source: CNN, “Blood, spit and cops: Nationwide drug roadblocks raise eyebrows,” Matt Smith, June 19, 2013