Drivers in North Fort Worth got a small surprise on Friday when they were stopped by policemen and asked to pull into a parking lot. There they were asked by federal contractors for samples of their breath, saliva and even blood, according to reports by NBC.
What could be the reason for the potential violation of the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights? According to reports, “The request was part of a government research study aimed at determining the number of drunken or drug-impaired drivers.”
What did the Fort Worth police say about the stops?
“We are reviewing the actions of all police personnel involved to ensure that FWPD policies and procedures were followed,” a Fort Worth spokesman said. “We apologize if any of our drivers and citizens were offended or inconvenienced by the NHTSA National Roadside Survey.”
Initially, the Fort Worth police department denied that they had any records that their officers were participating in any type of search, but according to later reports offered Tuesday by police spokesman Sgt. Kelly Peel, there were some officers, albeit off-duty, who were asked to participate in the study. The efforts were coordinated by the department’s Traffic Division coordinated with the NHTSA.
What did the Fort Worth drivers have to say about the stops?
Many drivers voiced concerns that they were forced off the road way when they had not committed a traffic violation and without probable cause. According to the Fort Worth police, however, all drivers had the right to just say no to this survey, which according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was “100 percent voluntary” and anonymous. According to the NHTSA, they are spending $7.9 million on the survey over three years.
But participants admitted they did not feel like the efforts were voluntary, although they did note that a sign at the stop stated drivers did not have to participate. Interestingly, the volunteers were offered money for their samples. A cheek swab could earn a driver $10; a blood same would earn $50. One driver mentioned that she didn’t feel like she could leave until she at least gave a breath sample. She did eventually capitulate, allowing them to test her breath. She was not compensated.
The survey was done by a government contractor, the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which is based in Calverton, Md. The study will be done in 30 cities across the country.
Are the stops legal?
Legal experts are questioning the constitutionality of the DUI stops, which are done randomly and for no reason. Although the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional, many states do not allow DUI roadblocks. Other states do, but most have instituted strict rules for their use such as a warning about the impending sobriety checkpoint and approval of the checkpoint prior to its use.
Drivers who are faced with a similar choice should consider that they do have rights protected under the Constitution. They should also consider whether or not their rights should be violated for $50.
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