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Proponents, critics weigh in on national roadside survey program

The national advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving highly endorses a federal initiative lengthily entitled the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving. The Institute for Highway Safety similarly supports the program.

Participants of the survey? Uh, not so much.

Here's why. The survey is literally a hands-on experience, and it often starts when a motorist tooling down the road sees a uniformed police officer ahead waving arms and directing the driver's vehicle toward a ramp and parking lot.

Once there, the motorist is questioned about his or her drinking and drug-using habits, especially in conjunction with driving. The driver is asked to submit to a breathalyzer test and further informed that the government is willing to hand over some cash in exchange for a saliva sample and blood draw.

The objective of the survey, which has been hauled out in a number of cities across the country on five occasions since 1973, it to obtain accurate data on drunk and drugged driving. Knowledge being power, safety regulators hope that such information can be employed -- through education and enforcement follow up -- to dampen harmful driving behaviors and curb motor vehicle accidents.

What has drawn concern from some participants, as well as from legislators on Capitol Hill, is the lack of clarity in some instances regarding whether participation is voluntary or mandatory.

Given a lack of probable cause for pulling a motorist over, program managers take pains to stress that a driver's participation is fully voluntary and that no criminal liability attaches in cases of impairment.

Critics of the initiative question wonder whether the voluntary nature of the program is being uniformly communicated to drivers who see a uniformed officer waving them over.

That question is likely to be discussed in upcoming days and weeks in Congress. Although the safety-related aim of the initiative is clear, critics say that the program's voluntary nature must be just as evident.

Source: ABC News, "US House committee looking into roadside survey," Michael Rubinkam, March 6, 2014

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