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Drunk driving stops: The basics

On Behalf of | Apr 19, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Being pulled over by the police is troubling for most people. You may even be tempted to panic if you see flashing lights and you don’t think you’ve done anything that warrants being pulled over. If you find out an officer has stopped you because they think you’re impaired, you may become even more concerned.

In order to conduct a traffic stop, police officers must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, is being or will be committed. In the case of suspected drunk driving, reasonable suspicion can arise from seeing certain actions that are commonly associated with impaired driving.

Signs of drunk driving officers look for

There are many signs of drunk driving that officers look for when they’re out on patrol. If they see any of these, they’ll likely initiate a traffic stop.

  • Speeding or driving too slowly for the current conditions
  • Swerving in and out of lanes
  • Hitting or almost hitting roadside objects
  • Failing to stop at stop signs or red lights

Sometimes, other situations, such as if your vehicle has a burned out light or you’re involved in a traffic accident, an officer might come into contact with you. At that point, they may suspect impaired driving if your breath smells of alcohol, they see open containers in your vehicle, or certain other signs.

Methods for determining impairment

Police officers have several methods for determining if a person is impaired. Some may ask the person to perform a field sobriety test. Only a battery of three tests, walk-and-turn, one-leg stand and horizontal gaze nystagmus, are considered reliable enough to be used as evidence in court. Some police officers may use different tests, but those typically aren’t considered admissible in court.

Another possibility is using a chemical test, such as a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) device. While a PAS isn’t reliable enough for evidence in court, it can provide quick information for the officer. They may follow that up with a breath test on the larger, stationary machine, or urine or blood testing to determine blood alcohol concentration for the person.

If you’re facing drunk driving charges, learning about the options you have for your defense strategy should be a priority. Working with a legal representative who can assist you with determining what you should do is important, as the consequences of a conviction can be life changing in the worst ways.