He was driving in Reading, Pennsylvania, on December 13, as the flashing lights appeared. A man stepped in front of his car and forced him into a parking lot.
A woman there badgered him with questions and insisted on a mouth swab to determine if he was drunk or using drugs. Richard Nieves declined to comply. Instead, he sued.
The federal government insists that its National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving is a practical way to monitor road safety. The method, however, is intrusive and unconstitutional according to civil liberties activists. Legislation that would ban Tennessee police agencies from cooperating cleared that state’s Senate earlier this year.
The survey works this way. Motorists are chosen randomly, waved into a parking area, interrogated about their drinking and driving habits, asked to take a breathalyzer exam, and offered money to provide saliva and blood samples or to answer a written survey. Sixty cities have participated.
Usually, the police can’t stop a driver without strongly suspecting that a law has been broken. The Supreme Court found an exception for sobriety checkpoints, but critics of the National Roadside Survey say it isn’t the legal equivalent of a checkpoint. When the survey was conducted in Fort Worth last year, one attorney there questioned results from a “voluntary” survey. He said the drivers who were drinking or using drugs would simply decline to take part, distorting the survey results.
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