Drivers in Fort Worth, Texas, and possibly dozens of other cities have been pulled over by police to “voluntarily” provide DNA samples for a federal transportation study. Once the motorists have been forced off the road, officers use secret sensors to test their breath without their consent.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is spending $7.9 million on a three-year study—the National Roadside Survey —being conducted in 30 metropolitan areas to find out how many drunk drivers are on American roads. Officials say participation in the study is “100 percent voluntary” and anonymous.
But some drivers in Fort Worth said the police stops weren’t voluntary at all.
Kim Cope told the city’s NBC affiliate that she was “forced” to pull over by police. They “wouldn’t let me [proceed] and forced me into a parking spot,” she said.
After that, she was asked for samples of saliva (worth $10) and blood (worth $50).
“It just doesn’t seem right that you can be forced off the road when you’re not doing anything wrong,” Cope said, who was on her lunch break when she had to stop.
Cope refused to give up blood or let them perform a cheek swab on her, but she gave in to a Breathalyzer test because she felt trapped and thought it would be the easiest way to be allowed to leave. She was not paid for having submitted to that test.
Many drivers apparently were not made aware that it was a voluntary process. Furthermore, it was later discovered that the consent forms they were told to sign included fine print that “passive alcohol sensor readings” had been conducted “before the consent process has been completed.” In other words, secret sensors were being employed to test motorists’ breath without their knowledge or consent.
The police “essentially [lie] to [motorists] when they say it’s completely voluntary, because they’re testing [them] at that moment,” local attorney Frank Colosi told NBCDFW.
The American Civil Liberties Union called the detention and surreptitious sampling of drivers “an abuse of power.” “How voluntary is it when you have a police officer in uniform flagging you down?” Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU Alabama chapter, told WGAL News. “Are you going to stop? Yes, you’re going to stop.”
Fort Worth Police (FWPD) apologized to local residents swept up in the work, which involved off-duty officers.
“We are reviewing the actions of all police personnel involved to ensure that FWPD policies and procedures were followed,” spokesman Sergeant Kelly Peel told NBCDFW. “We apologize if any of our drivers and citizens were offended or inconvenienced by the NHTSA National Roadside Survey.”
A similar search of motorists was conducted in June of motorists in Alabama. The state’s attorney general, Luther Strange, then said in a statement, “I am shocked. This is very troubling and I intend to get to the bottom of it.” Alabama Governor Robert Bentley added, “We need to find out from the federal government exactly what is being done with the information that was collected. We’ll do everything we can to…make sure that the rights of our citizens are protected.”
The NHTSA revealed that the study is funded by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy and conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation . Their stated goal is to obtain samples from 8,000 drivers.
Four similar studies have been conducted since 1973. The most recent one, in 2007, gathered 7,700 saliva samples and 3,300 blood samples from American motorists. However, unlike the current operation, none of the previous studies used “passive sensors” to take samples from drivers without their knowledge.
– Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
North Texas Drivers Stopped at Roadblock Asked for Saliva, Blood (by Scott Gordon, NBCDFW)
Texas Police Ask Drivers for Blood Samples, Secretly Test Those Who Refuse (by Jason Mick, DailyTech)