Did roadside survey of impaired driving violate drivers’ rights?

As part of a $7.9 million project by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration called the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving, the federal agency organized random stops of drivers in 60 cities across the U.S., including some communities in Texas, at the end of 2013. The federal government claims that the survey is necessary to get an idea of the extent of the impaired driving problem in the U.S. While participation in the survey is supposed to be voluntary, many motorists allege that the survey violated their rights.

random survey of impaired drivers

As part of the survey, drivers in selected cities were chosen on a reportedly random basis by either off-duty police officers or contractors working for the NHTSA. Chosen drivers were directed into parking lots, where those conducting the survey asked the drivers about their drinking and drug use. Drivers were then asked to take a breath test and offered money if they agreed to give a saliva or blood samples and answer a more extensive survey. Impaired drivers were either offered rides home or put into hotel rooms for the night.

random survey of impaired drivers

concerns about drivers' rights

The NHTSA has conducted this impaired driving survey five times since 1973. However, many have noted that the survey is problematic, given the potential violation of drivers' rights. There were signs posted at each survey site noting that participation in the test was voluntary. However, the clipboards that workers used were equipped with a device called a passive alcohol sensor that checks a driver's blood alcohol content even before giving consent to or refusing the breath test.

Additionally, many drivers reported that they did not feel that participation was voluntary. Drivers were often funneled into a single lane of traffic and then given no choice about whether to pull into the parking lot where the survey was being conducted if they were selected. Several reported feeling pressured to take breath tests, as well.

The U.S. Supreme Court has noted that sobriety checkpoints are an exception to the general rule that a police officer needs to suspect that a driver has broken the law before stopping a vehicle, as the benefit to society of getting drunk drivers off the road outweighs the minimal intrusion into privacy. However, civil liberties advocates argue that the survey does not carry the same public safety imperatives as a sobriety checkpoint, so the coercive tactics that the survey employs are unconstitutional.

speak with an attorney

As the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving demonstrates, federal and state authorities take drunk driving offenses very seriously. They go to great lengths to prosecute such cases in Texas. It is important for those facing DWI charges in Texas to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that their rights are protected during the process. If you are facing DWI charges in Texas, speak with a skilled DWI defense attorney soon.