After drawing considerable ire from the public over a program that tested drivers for drug and alcohol use — the latter secretly and without their consent — federal transportation officials today said they will no longer surreptitiously collect breath samples from drivers at roadblocks.
The Associated Press reports that a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official said roadblock testers will now get motorists' permission before using a passive alcohol sensor, which previously gathered breath samples before drivers could consent to the study.
NHTSA has been conducting their National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers since the 1970s to monitor drug and alcohol use by drivers. But as Jalopnik and other outlets reported last month, federal contractors had lately taken to using passive sensors to secretly test drivers. After being forced into roadblock areas by police, many drivers complained they felt they had no choice but to take part in the study.
The AP says Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman announced the change at a House subcommittee hearing in Washington today.
Following particularly a controversial roadblock survey in the Dallas area last year, the program had come under intense scrutiny from civil liberties activists, police watchdog groups and ordinary citizens.
My take is that this a good move on NHTSA's part. It was tough for them to justify calling the program "voluntary" when its contractors secretly record drivers' breath alcohol levels before getting their permission. While I'm still not too fond of the idea of police forcing drivers into the roadblocks, as it gives the impression that participation is mandatory, ending the secret testing aspect is a positive change.