In July of 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published the "Results of the 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers." The survey indicated that similar research has been done for the past four decades in order to ascertain how many drivers may be under the influence of alcohol, illegal or prescription drugs.
This year, however, there was controversy in several Alabama counties over the way in which the study was conducted. Our Montgomery accident lawyers know that accurate and complete data on drunk and impaired drivers is essential to make informed decisions about road safety. However, it is also important to make sure studies are conducted in a way that does not make people believe their rights are being infringed.
Alcohol and Drugged Driving Survey Stirs Criticism
According to Alabama.com, research for the 2013 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use was conducted on a weekend in early June. The survey was conducted between the hours of 10:00 p.m. to midnight and again from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 in the morning. Traffic was stopped in several locations in St. Clair and Bibb County and off-duty deputies asked motorists to undergo a breathalyzer test, give a blood sample and give a throat swab.
The survey was conducted anonymously and those who provided the throat swab were paid $10.00 while those who provided the blood sample were paid $50.00.
However, some expressed concerns because the survey was conducted late at night, because there was no consent form, and because it was unclear whether people were really aware that the survey was voluntary. Worry over providing information to the government in a time of increasing privacy concerns was also a fear that was voiced by several.
These concerns are based upon worries that people's Fourth Amendment rights may have been violated. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable and unjustified search and seizure.
Researchers, however, suggest that these concerns are unfounded, that the survey went well overall, that the public was receptive and that the process was very pleasant. A spokesperson for the group coordinating the study, the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, said that the survey actually went better than it often does and that he was surprised by the reaction.
Further researchers indicate that the use of the deputies to ask questions of motorists was done for safety reasons, not to infringe on people's rights or to make people feel as if the survey was not voluntary.
The reaction to the survey was reportedly unusual, as compared with the many previous times that the research has been conducted. The impact of social media was cited as one possible reason for the reaction. Drivers and motorists could better connect through the Internet and thus with news of multiple traffic stop areas, more questions were raised. The long history of the survey, however, suggests that the purpose really was to increase road safety and get a better handle on the number of drivers who are intoxicated on the road.
Motorists under the influence of drugs and alcohol continue to be a deadly issue on our nation's roads. This survey is an important means of collecting data to determine the effectiveness of public-awareness campaigns, law enforcement efforts and other initiatives.