Drivers in Fort Worth, Texas, last week faced a so-called “voluntary” roadblock, where police and federal contractors asked for samples of their breath, saliva and blood.
The stops are part of a government study trying to determine the number of drunken or drug-impaired drivers, according to NBC DFW, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is spending $7.9 million on the survey, which it calls anonymous and “100 percent voluntary.”
But Kim Cope, who was on her lunch break when forced to pull over on a busy street, begged to differ.
“I gestured to the guy in front that I just wanted to go straight, but he wouldn’t let me and forced me into a parking spot,” she told the station.
Once parked, contractors offered $10 for permission to take a cheek swab and $50 for a blood sample. They also wanted to test her breath for alcohol.
“It just doesn’t seem right that you can be forced off the road when you’re not doing anything wrong,” said Cope, who said she performed the Breathalyzer test because it seemed like the easiest way to leave.
Fort Worth police earlier told the station they could not immediately find any record of officer involvement in the roadblocks, but police spokesman Sgt. Kelly Peel said Tuesday that after NHTSA requested aid, the department coordinated with the agency on using off-duty officers.
“We are reviewing the actions of all police personnel involved to ensure that FWPD policies and procedures were followed,” he said. “We apologize if any of our drivers and citizens were offended or inconvenienced by the NHTSA National Roadside Survey.”
The surveys were carried out by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a government contractor based in Calverton, Maryland, according to NBC DFW. A company spokeswoman referred questions to NHTSA, which sent an email confirming the government is conducting the surveys in 30 cities in an effort to reduce impaired-driving accidents.
Fort Worth attorney Frank Colosi, an expert in civil liberties, said the stops may be unconstitutional.
“You can’t just be pulled over randomly or for no reason,” he said.
He added that fine print on a form given to drivers tells them their breath has been tested by “passive alcohol sensor readings before the consent process has been completed.”
“They’re essentially lying to you when they say it’s completely voluntary, because they’re testing you at that moment,” said Colosi, who also speculated the survey may be ineffective due to impaired drivers simply declining to participate.
Cope told NBC DFW that it “just doesn’t seem right” that any of it happened.
“If it’s voluntary, it’s voluntary, and none of it felt voluntary,” she said.
The controversial roadblock could be coming to your state; the saliva and blood samples are being taken in 30 cities.