Traffic Safety Administration Takes Its Blood And Saliva 'Survey' To Pennsylvania, With Predictable Results

from the this-isn't-over-yet dept

It appears the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (in conjunction with the White House Office of National Drug Policy) isn’t done turning American citizens against their local police departments with its quest to determine what percentage of drivers are hitting the road while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The police department of Ft. Worth, Texas, didn’t seem to enjoy the extra attention its assistance of the NHTSA at “voluntary” checkpoints brought with it. After first defending his officers’ actions during the saliva/blood/oxygen draws, the chief later backtracked, offering a sincere apology that actually apologized for his department’s participation rather than simply leaving any contrition left unsaid. (“We apologize if any drivers were offended…” Seriously?)

The claims made by both the NHTSA and Ft. Worth PD about this “survey” didn’t add up. It was supposedly both “voluntary” and “anonymous.” But drivers who refused to participate had their breath surreptitiously “tested” by Passive Alcohol Detectors, which means at least one aspect wasn’t “voluntary.” And those that did agree to give blood or saliva had to sign a release form, which knocks a pretty big hole in the “anonymity” side of it. Furthermore, having law enforcement officers ask nicely for cooperation tends to make “voluntary” experiences feel more “mandatory.” A sign posted before the checkpoint could have pointed out the survey was voluntary, but one would imagine this sort of notification would have eliminated the desired “randomness” the NHTSA was seeking.

I assume we’ll be hearing more about this in the next few days, but it appears the NHTSA Blood n’ Spit Road Show has moved on to Reading, Pennsylvania.

Police there joined forces with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation — a company hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy — to conduct the road stops.

This doesn’t seem to have made some locals very happy.

[E]ven though the drivers were told their provision of DNA was purely voluntary, many complained about the insistent quizzing and overall feeling of pressure — and that they were pulled to the side of the road in the first place for a research project, the Reading Eagle reported.

“I feel this incident is a gross abuse of power on many levels,” said Reading resident Ricardo Nieves, in a complaint to the town’s City Council earlier this week, Fox News reported.

But it appears as though the Reading police chief won’t be apologizing any time soon for lending out his officers (and their perceived authority).

Reading Police Chief William Heim said to the Reading Eagle that federal authorities are only trying to determine the extent of drunken and drugged driving statistics as part of an overall fight to lower road crashes and driving-related injuries. And he said the cheek swab requests weren’t aimed at collecting DNA but rather checking for the presence of prescription drugs, Fox News said. Moreover, he claimed police only served as security and weren’t actually pulling drivers to the side or asking questions.

This survey may not be aimed at collecting DNA, but it’s not as though it’s not being collected along with the blood and saliva. Other than protecting the cash box (donors are awarded $10-50, depending on which fluid is volunteered), it would seem a truly voluntary survey wouldn’t need much in terms of “security.” What sending police officers does do, whether intentionally or not, is provide the surveyors with more participants by lightly applying the color of authority. Chief Heim, however, seems either blissfully ignorant or deliberately ignorant of the effect adding a “police presence” has on a situation.

Asked about Nieves’ statement that the private firm wanted police there for intimidation, Heim responded: “People are not pressured by police presence to do something they don’t want to.

Only a cop could give that answer with a straight face and only a cop would. Every single day people are pressured to do things they don’t want to — or things they don’t feel they should need to — by people in positions of authority. A uniform and an imbalance of power go a long way towards eliminating the resistance shown by average citizens. Only the tenacious escape the hundreds of purely voluntary situations (“would you mind popping the trunk for me?” “would you mind pulling ahead to the inspection area?”) that arise everyday. Most people simply give these officers what they want, even when the officers themselves know they have no right to ask for it.

There will be more fallout from the NHTSA’s latest bodily fluid “survey” stop. There will be more in the future as it continues around the country. And accompanying it all will be the assertion that adding police officers into the mix has zero effect on the public’s perception of these “voluntary” surveys.

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Comments on “Traffic Safety Administration Takes Its Blood And Saliva 'Survey' To Pennsylvania, With Predictable Results”

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aldestrawk says:

There is NO testing being done for DNA!

I think people who run across this keep thinking there is a DNA test because they collect saliva with a swab which most people associate with DNA testing. If you look at the test methodology for this study at the NHTSA website, you can see they only do drug testing with the saliva. If there is a blood test as well they compare the two to help evaluate the efficacy of the saliva test. Sure, they could be sneaky about it, but given that they could use the blood for DNA analysis or test the pen you held for DNA.

Human research always requires informed permission which is done with a signature. There are innumerable human research studies that are blind or double blind and anonymous as well. Anonymous research still requires that signature. What it does mean is the documentation with the signature is kept from anyone who looks at, or analysis, the test results. The NHTSA, and PIRE, are claiming that the passive alcohol test does not require a signature because it is just observational, and not invasive. I disagree with this strongly, and they should realize it undermines trust in the study participants which is something that agency needs for the studies to be useful.
Here’s a tip: If you don’t want to be tested passively for alcohol, do not breath closely towards the PDA that is being held by the initial interviewer. That PDA has the sensor velcro’d to the bottom.

The police should not be involved. They are there supposedly just to ensure safety but I suspect they are also being used as a persuasion tactic to increase participation. Increased participation makes the study more statistically accurate. The use of the police will end up being counter-productive in an era where trust of the government is pretty damn low.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: There is NO testing being done for DNA!

  1. you may (OR MAY NOT) be correct in that there is no DNA testing going on; however much i may believe you, that doesn’t translate to ANYTHING MEANINGFUL when judging the veracity of the donut eaters, et al…

    2. i have ZERO doubt that they -a la that piece of shit ollie north- think it would be a ‘neat idea’ to get a twofer out of unsuspecting sheeple…

    3. further, while it MAY BE there is no intention or use of it by the immediate processors to screen DNA, WHO KNOWS who else will get a hold of these samples, etc…

    i’m sorry, the gummint has repeatedly proven they are NOT TO BE TRUSTED, and EVERY ACTION should be treated with extreme skepticism and minute scrutiny…

    someone wake me when its clobberin’ time…

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re: There is NO testing being done for DNA!

All human research has to comply with guidelines set by the government. There is no exception for research sponsored or contracted by a government agency. The NHTSA would be forced to cancel the roadside surveys if they were found to be lying about how the collected samples were being analyzed. Anyone who was responsible would be losing their jobs, at least. I don’t know what specific criminal charges could apply. The full testing methodology is laid out in the following document:

You may choose to distrust each and every part of the government, but I would rather pick and choose my battles and my distrust. With total distrust you end up living in a never-ending web of conspiracy theories with no hope for resolution. This year has uncovered tons of things that, prior to insider leaking, might well have been considered fringe conspiracy theories. Despite all that I feel more hopeful for the future because it seems the average citizen does have power and there will always be whistleblowers with the courage to speak out when there is a need.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: There is NO testing being done for DNA!

All human research has to comply with guidelines set by the government.

I just wanted to reinforce this. It’s 100% accurate. Violating this means that the researchers would probably, at a minimum, lose their funding.

It does at times lead to absurd things: I was once involved in conducting a research project that had a human testing component. The test was that we played a series of sounds to the subject and they told us what direction the sound was coming from. It was 100% innocuous. However, every subject had to sign forms affirming that they were giving informed consent and that they won’t sue anyone should they be injured or die.

It was stupid for this sort of thing — but had to be done to comply with the human testing rules (that are much less ridiculous with other sorts of research). There are no exceptions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 There is NO testing being done for DNA!

However, every subject had to sign forms affirming that they were giving informed consent and that they won’t sue anyone should they be injured or die.

It was stupid for this sort of thing — but had to be done to comply with the human testing rules

No. The part about them not suing is not required. And it’s obnoxious. If you think the test is so ridiculously safe, you don’t need the liability waiver anyway. But if there’s a short-circuit in the headphones or you accidentally play the sound at 120 decibels and I do in fact get injured or die, then you should absolutely be responsible for my medical bills. Acceptance of liability by the testers should be the norm, rather than a waiver of liability. You’re the ones testing. You know the risks best. And if you can’t perform the test because the liability is too great – maybe you should reconsider whether the test is worth doing.

aldestrawk says:


crayons and paper for any kids
dog biscuits for the dogs
$50 for a driver’s blood sample
$10 for a driver’s saliva sample
$5 for a driver to participate in an alcohol use survey
$5 for each passenger over 16 that participates in a survey
$100 for a subset of those who refused initially to reconsider taking part.

So, a driver can earn up to $65 normally and some may be able to earn $165. Money orders are used for payouts. Additionally, if you’re an out-of-towner and driving drunk, they will put you up for free in a local hotel/motel.

aldestrawk says:

Re: I'm driving to Reading...

You don’t even have to stop, you can drive right past the survey. The setup, particularly with police directing traffic, just makes it look like your required to stop. Previous roadside survey reports include the number of those who didn’t stop at all. Nothing is going to happen to you as a result.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm driving to Reading...

Thing is, how are the people driving past supposed to know that in this instance, not following the directions of a uniformed officer isn’t going to lead to them getting a ticket or arrested?

They use cops for these surveys for the simple reason that people are conditioned to obey them, lest bad things happen, something they know full well.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm driving to Reading...

The cops are only used to direct traffic off the road and onto the survey site. There is supposed to be a sign, or signs, that say “Voluntary Survey”. A driver seeing that sign can ignore, non-police, traffic directors on the site and continue back onto the road without stopping. Sometimes the local cops won’t agree to direct traffic and the survey staff have to do this themselves. I think they should always direct traffic themselves, because you cannot get away from an implied obligation to stop when law enforcement is directing traffic.

I would personally stop and participate in these surveys if I ran across one. However, If I didn’t know about the study beforehand, my hackles would raise and I would be looking for permission, like a sign, to exit. In California, at least, law enforcement has to give advance notice of a drunk driving checkpoint and allow for an alternative route once a driver can see the checkpoint. I have and will always take that alternative route just on principal.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I'm driving to Reading...

Why are you fighting so vehemently for something that if done by anyone else would involve fines and possible jail time? IF this is a voluntary survey, why are they blocking traffic and intimidating motorists?

Why isn’t there a big giant sign that says “Voluntary Survey, up to $165, turn here” outside of a parking lot? Police aren’t required, traffic isn’t blocked, and people aren’t looking for a conspiracy.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I'm driving to Reading...

I believe in scientific research and I have been a subject in many research studies as part of an internship I had at NIH. I think the roadside survey study is useful so that law enforcement doesn’t get to justify laws and programs based just on their hunch. In particular, we are going to be faced more and more with DUI enforcement where drug use and not alcohol is the underlying cause. There is a push by law enforcement to have zero-tolerance laws or policies for illegal drugs without understanding the real nature of any impairment to driving by those drugs.

I do not support the police being involved in the roadside survey. However, I am also trying to clear up misconceptions about the program. The police are only used to direct traffic from the road onto the survey site. They are not present on the survey site. Anyone you deal with on the survey site, including the person who directs cars to a parking spot, is not going to be law enforcement. At this point you should be able to see signs, and be told, that this is a voluntary survey and be able to drive back onto the road without participating or even stopping.

This study is a difficult one because it requires inconveniencing people while they are driving somewhere. The statistical accuracy of the study is dependent upon a high percentage of those asked, to actually participate. Again, I think it is a mistake for them to use the police to encourage participation. They should realize that this tactic will backfire and end up being counter-productive.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 I'm driving to Reading...

The police are only used to direct traffic from the road onto the survey site.

Which is the entire problem, and shouldn’t be happening. It’s abuse of power.

This study is a difficult one because it requires inconveniencing people while they are driving somewhere.

It’s more than “inconveniencing”. This is a lot different than cops directing you through a detour. You have been forced off the road, into an areas where people are doing weird things to the driver. The clear implication is that this is all mandatory. No amount of signage will be able to overcome this perception — the cop didn’t give you a choice about whether to pull over or not, after all, so “voluntary” has gone out the window right then and there.

Further, whether or not there are any uniformed police at the survey site means very little. The message is loud and clear: the researchers are conducting police work.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'...only served as security'

If that was the case, why were they in uniform? If the police were really only there to provide security, they could do that in street clothes just as well as police uniforms, and it’s not like there are no companies that could have provided security if that was really a concern.

No, it’s likely the entire purpose behind asking the police to ‘help out’ like this is because the people in charge of it know exactly how influential having cops provide security would be, and how much that would skew the odds of people complying with the ‘voluntary’ survey in their favor.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: '...only served as security'

yes, exactly: there IS a perception that if kops are there, it MUST BE ‘official’ and/or ‘mandatory’…

here’s the thing: they’ve made it (WRONGLY AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVELY, as far as i’m concerned) so kops can LIE OUT THEIR ASSES to entrap us in all kinds of shit, BUT there are ZERO consequences for KOPS LYING TO US…
in fact, they get a fucking medal for lies to entrap us…

so, they have given the donut eaters a license to LIE TO US ALL THE TIME FOR ANY REASON WITH NO CONSEQUENCES, and wonder why we don’t ‘trust’ them ? ? ?

u r fukkin’ kiddin’ me, richtig ?

Mr. Applegate says:

“Only the tenacious escape the hundreds of purely voluntary situations (“would you mind popping the trunk for me?” “would you mind pulling ahead to the inspection area?”) that arise everyday. Most people simply give these officers what they want, even when the officers themselves know they have no right to ask for it. “

I was once a sound technician for a band. We played all over, nearly every weekend. I drove a really crappy looking cargo van. One place we played, it never failed, on the way home at 3:00AM I would get pulled over, every bloody night.

The first couple of times it happened I played nice. By the third time I was done. I would get out of the van and go back to the cop yelling at him. Yeah, I got drawn down on a couple of times, and one cop went to the trouble to search me. When he said I was free to go I told him what a dumb ass he was and he was lucky I wasn’t up to no good or he would have been dead.

His face turned beet red and he asked why. I told him I had a passenger carrying a Beretta .40cal and I had a Beretta 9 between the seats. Yes, we both had carry permits… I went on to tell him, he didn’t clear the van, or call for backup, if we had been up to no good he would have never seen the shot coming.

He stood there fuming mad, I knew I was going to jail, but I had my revenge. After what seemed like an eternity, him staring at me and me staring right back he said, “I think you should go now” I said “OK, have a nice night.” That was the last time I got pulled over in that town.

That was many years ago, today I would have probably been shot dead when I got out of the van.

Here is a little tip for people in authority. Stop acting like Barney Fife, and try a little Andy Taylor. You might be surprised how well that works. Yes, even today.

Guess I just dated myself.

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