How would you feel if you came to a roadblock and a sheriff’s deputy asked you to come with him to a room where they asked you whether or not you had drank or used narcotics recently? And if you would agree to a blood or saliva sample?
The roadblocks went up on a Friday at several points in two Alabama towns, about 40 miles on either side of Birmingham.
For the next two days, off-duty sheriff’s deputies in St. Clair County, to the east, and Bibb County, to the southwest, flagged down motorists and steered them toward federal highway safety researchers. The researchers asked them a few questions about drinking and drug use and asked them for breath, saliva and blood samples — offering them $10 for saliva and $50 to give blood.
It’s not just in Alabama. The roadblocks are part of a national study led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is trying to determine how many drivers are on the road with drugs or alcohol in their systems. Similar roadblocks will be erected in dozens of communities across the nation this year, according to the agency.
It’s been going on for decades. Previous surveys date to the 1970s. The last one was run in 2007, and it included the collection of blood and saliva samples without apparent controversy, sheriff’s spokesmen in both Alabama counties said…
And Susan Watson, executive director of the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the use of deputies to conduct the survey an “abuse of power.” Even though the survey is voluntary, people still feel they need to comply when asked by a police officer, she said.
“How voluntary is it when you have a police officer in uniform flagging you down?” Watson asked. “Are you going to stop? Yes, you’re going to stop.”
The agency said in a statement that the survey provides “critical information” to reduce drunken or drugged driving.
“Impaired driving accounts for more than 10,000 deaths per year, and findings from this survey will be used to maximize the impact of policy development, education campaigns, law enforcement efforts and other activities aimed at reducing this problem,” it said. The program costs about $7.9 million over three years, from planning the study to analyzing the results, it said.
“The survey provides useful data about alcohol and drug use by drivers, and participation is completely voluntary and anonymous,” it said. “More than 60 communities across the country will participate this year, including two Alabama counties, both of which also participated in the previous survey in 2007. NHTSA always works closely with state safety officials and local law enforcement to conduct these surveys as we work to better inform our efforts to reduce drunk and drugged driving.”
The agency said the 8,000 drivers expected to take part will do so voluntarily and anonymously, and researchers follow “a highly scientific protocol and complex statistical design in order to accurately reflect the problem nationwide.”
In the 2007 survey, about 7,700 drivers gave saliva samples and 3,300 gave blood at survey sites run during both day and night. Among drivers who were interviewed at night, 12.4% had alcohol in their systems, while about 16% had used marijuana, cocaine or over-the-counter or prescription drugs.
Read the entire story here: http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/19/us/drug-survey-roadblocks/index.html