Would you let the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration take a blood sample from you for $50? Or swab your cheek for ten bucks? What about just blowing into a breathalyzer as a freebie, if the goal is to complete a comprehensive survey to determine the number of drink- and drug-impaired drivers on the road?
Some probably would, while others would probably choose to keep their saliva, blood, and breath to themselves. But if you were in your car, ushered off of a busy road by police, and asked by a federal subcontractor for the samples in question, you might not really feel like you had a choice.
That’s something that motorists in Fort Worth found themselves encountering last week, as off-duty police officers hired by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation—a subcontractor with the NHTSA—set up roadblocks to assist the company in acquiring the samples. The federal agency is spending $7.9 million on the survey, which is being conducted in 30 cities over three years. According to an NBC 5 investigation, the administration claims that “participation was ‘100 percent voluntary’ and anonymous.”
That might be true, but when police are setting up roadblocks to stop motorists, “voluntary” tends to take on a different tone: People are taught to follow police instructions and not question instructions, and it’s easy to understand why, as the woman who sparked the NBC 5 investigation claims, they might not feel like they were volunteers participating of their own accord.
“It just doesn’t seem right that you can be forced off the road when you’re not doing anything wrong,” said Kim Cope, who said she was on her lunch break when she was forced to pull over at the roadblock on Beach Street in North Fort Worth.
Cope said it didn’t feel voluntary to her — despite signs saying it was.
“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 said.
The Fort Worth Police Department has issued an “if anyone was offended”-style apology for the participation of their officers, after initially denying involvement. That may provide some comfort to people who are concerned about police using their authority to make an ostensibly voluntary procedure feel like one that’s less so, but motorists who resent the intrusion are probably justified in still feeling a bit violated.
Watch the full video of the investigation from NBC 5 below:
(image via Flickr)