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Random blood tests for impaired driving surveys raise concerns

Being pulled over by police officers -- under any circumstances -- is a stressful experience. Now, imagine being pulled over and asked to submit to a sobriety test for no apparent reason. Federal officials have been doing this since 1973 as part of the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving, and people are beginning to raise civil rights concerns.

Officials have conducted a "random" survey of drivers in 60 cities throughout the country to determine rates of intoxicated driving five times since the program began. Advocates for this survey say that participation is entirely voluntary and anonymous, but some people who have participated aren't so sure about that.

Depending on the survey site, independent contractors or local police forces are used to pull drivers off the road to participate in the survey. At this point, surveyors ask several questions and request samples (a mouth swab or breath test, for example) to check for intoxication.

Those who are found to be intoxicated during the survey, are allegedly not supposed to be arrested or charged, but some might be concerned about what will happen, especially given the presence of police. In this sort of situation, a person might not know what to do, particularly if there is an indication that law enforcement will step in.

Some participants in the survey have reported that the situation feels like anything but voluntary. One woman remembers being funneled into a testing site from the highway. She was in a rush and flustered, so she submitted to a blood alcohol test. The concern is that this type of action is coercive.

In many states, including South Carolina, police conduct drunk driving checkpoints, a practice that has raised similar civil rights concerns. Even though police don't have probable cause to pull over drivers and test for intoxication, they are legally allowed to do so.

Source: The Associated Press, "Roadside survey of impaired driving causes outcry," Michael Rubinkam, Feb. 20, 2014

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