Opinion: OKC Drivers Don’t Mind Random Stops to Answer Fed Questions about Drunk, Drugged Driving?

The federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the sponsor of the national survey of drunk- and drugged drivers.

The federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the sponsor of the national survey of drunk and drugged drivers.

I saw a local news report about this yesterday, but it has apparently been going on since last summer. I’m talking about a federally funded survey of drunk driving and drug-impaired driving. The survey has been under way during 2013-2014 in 60 U.S. cities, including Oklahoma City.

The National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving was conducted in OKC last September. How did this happen here without generating any kind of public response? This “voluntary” traffic survey has sure drawn some outcries in other cities, even though similar surveys have been conducted going back to 1973.

The survey is conducted by government contractors hired by the federal government. Local police and sheriff’s departments are recruited to assist. Law enforcement officers set up flashing lights and orange cones on a highway during nighttime hours to slow down traffic. Vehicles are selected at random to “voluntarily” participate in the survey. According to one Pennsylvania man who has filed a lawsuit, someone stepped in front of his car and “volunteered him” to pull into a parking lot.

After a car has been pulled over, a survey-taker asks the driver to answer questions about one’s driving habits. If the driver cooperates, he or she is then offered money (around $60) to submit to a mouth swab to provide a saliva sample and/or submit to a breathalyzer and/or provide a blood sample.

The whole thing is sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) and the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy. According to those federal agencies, the purpose of the survey is to determine the number of drivers on the road with measurable blood-alcohol concentrations and the number of drivers with measurable levels of illegal, prescription or over-the counter drugs in their systems.

The survey began last summer and is still under way, with results expected toward the end of next year. The survey has and is being conducted in 60 cities, including Oklahoma City. Were you stopped?

Public Outcry

The National Roadside Survey has been conducted four times before, in 1973, 1986, 1997 and 2007. I don’t know what kind of public response the survey generated in previous years, but it sure has drawn a response this time around.

• In Pennsylvania, a man has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming his rights were violated by being forced to pull over. He’s the one who said someone stepped in front of his car and motioned for him to pull over. Is that voluntary?

• The Fort Worth police chief issued a public apology for cooperating with the survey after many Texans complained about the intrusion.

• Enough Alabama residents complained that the governor and attorney general in that state promised to conduct an investigation.

• In Missouri, a state representative said he will introduce legislation to forbid Missouri law enforcement agencies from participating in future roadside surveys. He called it an example of “federal overreach” that “violated the rights of Missourians.”

My Opinion

I’m surprised there were not similar complaints in Oklahoma City. As a rule, Oklahomans do not respond favorable to federal government intrusion. According to The Oklahoman, the survey was conducted in OKC last September, in cooperation with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department, and no complaints were received.

Maybe no real harm has been done by pulling over a few thousand drivers across the country to conduct a federal survey. But these are days when we should be fighting to hang on to any remaining shreds of privacy we have. The motives of this survey may be innocent enough, but I am concerned that this kind of tactic desensitizes the public to future intrusions on our privacy by government and other forces.

One source said that when drivers are pulled over, survey-takers use passive alcohol sensors which have the ability to detect alcohol on a driver’s breath without the driver’s permission or knowledge. That’s not voluntary.

Are Survey Results Valid?

Besides, after spending millions of federal dollars and ticking off citizens in several cities, how reliable are the results?

• According to reports, 125 drivers were surveyed in each of the 60 cities, for a total of 7,500 participants. There are about 250 million Americans 16 and above. I don’t know how many are driving at any given moment. If it is just one in one hundred, that’s 2.5 million drivers on the road at the same time. A sample of 7,500 drivers is less than one-third of 1 percent. Can such a small sample really tell us anything?

• Since participation is voluntary, isn’t it likely that those who are driving under the influence just keep on going, refusing to stop or answer questions? That surely compromises the results?

• If drivers are paid to provide information and biological samples, doesn’t that also taint the accuracy of the survey?

• Besides, the previous surveys were conducted ten or more years apart. Why has this survey been conducted just six years after the 2007 survey?

If you were stopped for the National Roadside Survey, especially if you were stopped in Oklahoma City, I’d love to hear about it. Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.

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