Saskatchewan’s provincial insurance company is looking to paint a real-world picture of the prevalence of drug and alcohol impairment by conducting roadside tests and surveys.

On March 7, SGI issued a request for proposals for a study looking at drug and alcohol impairment on Saskatchewan roadways. SGI is looking for a third-party data collection firm to assist in conducting roadside surveys and compiling a report detailing the findings.

SGI’s vice-president of traffic safety and driver services, Kwie Quaye, said this is something SGI has done in the past, and it’s a roadside protocol issued by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA).

“The goal of this survey is to find out how many people are driving impaired, impaired by alcohol or impaired by drugs. Participants will be asked to blow into an alcohol screening device and they’ll also be asked to volunteer an oral sample to measure the amount of drugs they may have at that point in time.”

SGI said proponents of the request for proposals will need to budget for police officers, who will only be used to direct traffic into the survey area. Quaye said officers will not be approaching drivers at the window.

Quaye said impaired drivers in the survey area won’t be prosecuted.

“If a high level of alcohol is found in them, a safe ride will be provided for them to get home safely and there won’t be any consequences,” he said, adding the vehicle will be kept in a safe location so the driver can pick it up the next day. No towing fees will be incurred by the impaired driver.

While in theory police may only be redirecting traffic, a sociology professor at the University of Saskatchewan said he’s concerned that drivers won’t realize they have the right to refuse the survey.

“They might see the police officer and think there’s an expectation for participation when the research specifically says that they are not coercing people, they are choosing to participate,” Scott Thompson said.

But what happens if you refuse to participate in the roadside survey, and someone suspects you are impaired?

Quaye said it’s SGI’s responsibility to notify police of the suspected impaired driver because SGI does not want any impaired drivers on the road.

“If they refuse to participate and there is clear impairment, is it out obligation to let the police know,” Quaye said.

This variable is another sticky issue for Thompson, whose research focuses on privacy and surveillance.

“What if someone refuses and at what point do (drivers) become detained and at that point you get into a tricky area of: ‘are these researchers acting as agents of the police service?’”

The last time SGI embarked on a study like this was in 1993. SGI says it is important to understand impaired driving among all drivers, not just the ones who are caught by police through enforcement.

SGI stressed this study is entirely voluntary and anonymous. No names, plates or driver’s licenses will be collected during the roadside survey.

SGI said it hopes to have a proponent in place to start conducting these roadside surveys throughout the province from June to September, with a final report being compiled in November.