Drivers and non-drivers everywhere would agree that driving under the influence is a dangerous oractice that needs to be stopped. Keeping drivers who are drunk or otherwise impaired helps save lives and can even help keep the price of auto insurance down. However, where do we draw the line between helping to keep our roads safer and making it impossible to drive on them at all?
In an article in The Mercury, a newspaper in Pennsylvania, there is a study of the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving. For those not familiar with the survey and what is involved, imagine driving down the road, perhaps running an errand or going to grab a bite to eat. Suddenly, you are presented with a police officer or government contractor signalling for you to get off the road and go into a parking lot. There, the official asks you if you would be willing to take a survey about drinking and driving, your practices, and other information that would likely be very useful for analysis. All in all, the survey sounds like a useful practice.
The issue at hand is the lack of choice. While the official might contend that they asked if you would like to take the survey or not, the truth of the matter is that you are not about to say no. Why would you? Most likely, you are scared that saying no would be saying that you have something to hide. However, this is taking time out of your day which you may or may not have. If you are on your way to pick up your kids from school, a delay is undesirable at best. If you are on your way to an important meeting, you certainly don’t have time to spend taking a survey.
Plus, there is the question about whether information is being taken without your consent. At such stops, an officer may use a passive alcohol sensor, which can detect the presence of alcohol without taking a breathalyzer test. While not quite as accurate as a breathalyzer, it never the less collects information from you without your consent, and that information can be used to fill in anonymous data for the survey. Is this an acceptable practice, or an invasion of privacy?
For those familiar with drunk driving checkpoints, this may sound somewhat familiar. The difference is the fact that the survey may or may not be conducted by a police officer and that the data would then be sent to be analyzed. The other major difference is that for a checkpoint, everyone is stopped. For a survey, only a handful or randomly selected cars are pulled over.
Certainly, checkpoints keep our roads safer, but are these roadside surveys truly needed? Could the information not be gathered differently or through a more voluntary procedure? True, the data may end up being less accurate if survey takers knew they would be taking it ahead of time, but is the accuracy of information for a survey worth a potential invasion of privacy for the individuals involved?