Drunk driving

Would You Like to Give Your Blood and Saliva to a Nameless Official for No Apparent Reason?

They'll pay you!


Would you like to anonymously tell this government official standing directly in front of you if you're currently breaking the law?
Credit: shahram sharif / Foter.com / CC BY

The federal government is spending $8 million on a study to determine the number of drunken or drug-impaired drivers on the road. The way the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decided to make this scientific calculation is causing some concern: They're apparently forcibly pulling cars over en masse and asking them to "voluntarily" give them some blood or saliva to test.

It happened in Fort Worth, Texas, recently, prompting at least local one woman to ask, "WTF?" Courtesy of NBC's Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate:

"It just doesn't seem right that you can be forced off the road when you're not doing anything wrong," said Kim Cope, who said she was on her lunch break when she was forced to pull over at the roadblock on Beach Street in North Fort Worth.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is spending $7.9 million on the survey over three years, said participation was "100 percent voluntary" and anonymous.

But Cope said it didn't feel voluntary to her—despite signs saying it was.

"I gestured to the guy in front that I just wanted to go straight, but he wouldn't let me and forced me into a parking spot," she said.

Once parked, she couldn't believe what she was asked next.

"They were asking for cheek swabs," she said. "They would give $10 for that. Also, if you let them take your blood, they would pay you $50 for that."

Government science at works, folks. Cope said she submitted to a breath test because she "felt trapped."

NBC turned to a local civil liberties attorney who looked at the forms given to those who had been pulled over. It turned out the claim that participation was voluntary was nonsense, even beyond Cope and others being forced into the parking lot. The form stated that drivers were tested by "passive alcohol sensor readings before the consent process has been completed."

In addition, the NHTSA hired off-duty local police officers to man the roadblock, so attempting to convince drivers that their participation to test to see if they were currently breaking the law was completely anonymous probably did not pan out well for them. A column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted that a previous similar effort in 2007 had one out of six drivers declining to participate. That seems like a high enough refusal rate to throw any actual figures the agency comes up with into question.

The NHTSA has done similar studies throughout the years since the '70s. You can access their previous results here and determine for yourself it this is anything more than creepy government busywork. The tests show a pretty significant decline in the number of folks testing positive for alcohol while behind the wheel since they started these surveys, and hardly anybody was showing high levels of alcohol in their system during the daytime in 2007. Their own previous results makes the delaying of people on their lunch breaks all the more annoying.