NHTSA's Voluntary Roadside Blood-And-Saliva Survey Heads To Seattle With A Much Greater Emphasis On 'Voluntary'

from the it-can-be-taught dept

Although it’s already been burned twice for its intrusive, not-mandatory-but-it-sure-looks-that-way “roadside surveys,” the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) isn’t letting a lot of bad press, a lawsuit and a Congressional investigation slow down its blood-and-saliva collections. After two straight debacles (Texas and Pennsylvania), the NHTSA is headed to Seattle in hopes of gauging the effects of newly-legal weed on the driving population. (h/t to Techdirt reader DeComposer)

Government-hired survey teams will soon ask hundreds of Washington state motorists to answer questions and provide samples of breath, saliva and blood — all to give safety and police agencies a clearer sense of how many people drive impaired.

The roadside surveys are voluntary, and participants will be paid up to $60, under the federally funded project this summer.

The only remaining question is how these will be handled. On its two previous attempts, the NHTSA sent an independent contractor to handle the blood draws and saliva collection. And both times, local law enforcement provided officers, vehicles and barricades — all of which suggested to several motorists that these voluntary collections were far from voluntary. From what’s being reported here, it appears that more effort is being made to ensure drivers know these surveys are indeed entirely optional.

Crews will not block or slow traffic, officials say. Drivers at a stoplight would encounter civilians wearing orange vests, with signs saying “Paid Voluntary Survey,” then be asked if they wish to participate.

The article also states that collected data will be destroyed when the report is published and that names and license numbers won’t be recorded. The latter sounds ideal, but the reality of the situation is that, unless things have changed, consenting to a blood draw still requires the signature of the volunteer, which means there will be some sort of recording going on. And surveyors will still be collecting non-consensual “samples” using passive alcohol detectors. The defenders of this practice argue that these detectors are actually consensual (due to consent given by volunteering to be surveyed), even though people aren’t notified about their existence until after they’ve already had their breath sampled.

The ACLU is keeping an eye on the NHTSA’s newest survey, which, so far at least, seems to be headed towards a more obviously voluntary presentation. That’s a huge improvement over its previous efforts and is likely a good indicator of how these will be handled in the future. Law enforcement officers will again be on hand to protect the cash payout and offer options to impaired drivers, but their presence will be far more muted than past instances.

If the NHTSA can learn from its mistakes and move on in a more honest and transparent fashion, it should be able to entice enough volunteers with its cash payments to present credible data at the end of its collection period. If it decides to go back to the old way, however, it will find it increasingly difficult to secure any participation at all.

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Comments on “NHTSA's Voluntary Roadside Blood-And-Saliva Survey Heads To Seattle With A Much Greater Emphasis On 'Voluntary'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

all that is going to happen here is whatever ‘samples’ that are collected ‘voluntarily’ they will be added to whatever samples that have been collected both voluntarily and involuntarily so that the data base the government has on people will just get that much bigger, will have more names in it to be watched! the aim of the game is a complete database of every person in the USA. eventually, that will be extended to other countries. that way the USA can actually become what it thinks it is already, The USA World Police!!

Drang (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

As noted above, while the law has passed, it has not yet gone into effect, so technically, weed isn’t legal here. OTOH, the previous prohibitions were being lightly enforced at best, even before it passed, as prosecutors were only going after egregious cases.

Also, FWIW, in WA a “checkpoint” must stop each and every vehicle to be legal, so the standard model elsewhere wouldn’t apply here.

And the cops here are exactly pristine, the Seattle PD has gotten hammered by the Feds for being over-zealous, so to speak…

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Hey now, Seattle’s not LA or New York. We don’t people here… most of the time.

The officers are just going to repeat the same advice that the folks doing the survey are going to give the impaired drivers (“call a cab or check into a motel” for the most part), just with a little more ‘implied weight’ behind their words.

Only if the impaired driver disregards both the volunteer and the officer’s advice and STILL tries to drive away while impaired will they get incarcerated (and frankly, they’d deserve a kick or five in the rear for being so blatantly stupid).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It seems that with the presence of police being there to “offer options”, or even at all in any capacity, would deter impaired drivers from volunteering out of a very valid fear of persecution. This would reduce the potential range of people applicable to be surveyed to only those sober, or intoxicated and courageous, and skew results accordingly. If that were to happen, it would invalidate the results. The NHTSA perhaps should consider further changes, once they figure out what “voluntary” actually means.

LVDave (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You might ask the IRS about their definition of “voluntary”.. They trumpet how they’re all about “voluntary compliance”.. Funny, the word “voluntary” kinda negates using the word “compliance” after it..

Websters sez this about the word “Voluntary” ..
* done or given because you want to and not because you are forced to
* done or given by choice

IRS’s definition of Voluntary … We tell you how much to pay, and you voluntarily pay it, or we seize your stuff..

I get the feeling the cops would tend to lean towards the IRS definition of voluntary…

zip says:

compile DNA database?

There are many unsolved crimes in which the suspect’s DNA has been identified. Roving roadside checkpoints provide a prime opportunity to compile a public DNA database to forever sift through.

Or do people really believe that once collected, such samples won’t ever be used for anything else?

Michael (profile) says:

Crews will not block or slow traffic, officials say. Drivers at a stoplight would encounter civilians wearing orange vests, with signs saying ?Paid Voluntary Survey,? then be asked if they wish to participate.

I am not sure where you regularly drive, but a guy on the side of the road wearing an orange vest will completely F*** up traffic in Connecticut.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

We have a fairly recent law where I live that causes this problem with emergency vehicles on the side of the highway now. You are required to change lanes so that there is an empty lane between you and the vehicle. If that’s impossible to do, you are required to slow to at most 25 mph.

This means that anytime the cops pull someone over on the highway, it’s an instant traffic jam.

Anonymous Coward says:

"credible data"

“…it should be able to entice enough volunteers with its cash payments to present credible data…”

Everything about this paradigm in hopelessly flawed for the purpose of drawing inferences about the target population. It will provide “credible data” about people willing to volunteer to be paid. [sarc]No possible biases in that self-selecting subject group.[/sarc]

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