NHTSA stages checkpoints to collect blood, oral fluid for safety survey

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 6/12/2013

Officials with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration are in the midst of conducting The National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving study. This is the fifth survey of alcohol use by drivers that has been conducted approximately every decade since the early 1970s and the second survey that includes information on drugs used by drivers on our nation’s roads, according to NHTSA.

The survey is sponsored by NHTSA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and its objective is to estimate the prevalence of alcohol and drug use by drivers. The data is then used to track reductions and identify potential trends related to drunk and drug-impaired driving.

To obtain the results, survey participants were asked to provide blood, breath and oral fluid samples. Respondents were paid $50 for blood samples and $10 for mouth swabs.

But the agency isn’t saying much more beyond that, and refused to comment on how the data collection takes place. NHTSA spokesman Jose Uclés, declined to comment beyond saying the research is just beginning and that participants are anonymous. He emailed the following statement about the survey:

“Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) is conducting the 2013 field survey, which will take place in 60 sites across the country with a sample size of 125 participants per location, for a total of 7,500. Participation is completely voluntary and all of the data remains anonymous.

“Vehicles are randomly selected from the traffic stream and drivers are asked to participate. The protocol for this survey is well-established and consists of collection of voluntary breath, oral fluid, and/or blood samples. Participants also answer survey questions related to alcohol and drugs. Data will be collected this summer and again in early fall.”

Ulcés did not respond to a written request of procedural questions about the methods used by NHTSA to collect the data, or the role law enforcement play in helping to acquire voluntary participants from motorists on public roads.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said the setting up of a roadblock may be an infringement upon the rights of drivers.

“While the agency seems to be hanging its hat on the fact that participation in this is voluntary, with the inducement being they’re giving you money, the clear reality is that while participation may be voluntary, the stop isn’t,” Spencer said.

Kevin Lawrence, a deputy with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Department in Alabama, was one of the officers who assisted in establishing checkpoints for motorists in Bibb County on June 8 and 9.

Lawrence said the data collection areas were set up on roads that had access to a parking lot or pull-off area, and that law enforcement personnel directed traffic.

“Deputies would randomly select vehicles, about every other car, and ask drivers if they would be interested in participating in a national survey,” Lawrence said.

“If they were interested, they could pull into an area set up off the road to participate and be compensated for their participation. They were never detained; they were free to leave and do whatever they needed to. If your vehicle was selected, then an officer would have been in the road and you’d have pulled up there with your window down,” he said.

Spencer said he believes the data could be collected in a more suitable venue than a public road.

“Anybody’s motives can be viewed as reality or with merit,” he said. “But if the stop is made with any reason other than probable cause, some action on the part of the driver, the information could just as easily be gotten by interviewing people on the street, or in a public forum. They’re interviewing drivers, asking questions and taking samples from willing participants. That doesn’t have to be done by stopping people on the road.”

Results of the 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving study can be found here.

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