Stopping a motorist for suspected drunk driving requires reasonable suspicion of a driver’s intoxication. Law enforcement training includes looking for tell-tale signs that a driver is likely under the influence. When making a traffic stop for a suspected DWI, police officers must identify the driving behavior that drew his/her attention as well as any identified positive indications of impairment.
So, what do officers look for when making DWI & DUI stops?
Among the most common driving behaviors triggering a traffic stop include:
- Weaving in and out of traffic
- Driving without headlights
- Equipment violations
- Driving the wrong way down a one-way street
- Excessive speeding or driving too slowly
- Failing to use turn signals
- Following too closely
- Running stop signs and traffic signals
- Expired license plate decals
Common signs of driver impairment include:
- Smell of alcohol or drugs emanating from the vehicle or on the driver
- Slurred speech
- Bloodshot, watery, or glassy eyes
- Jerky movement
- Fine motor skills problems
- Admission of alcohol consumption before driving
- General confusion
- Awkward balance and coordination
NHTSA Checklist of Drunk Driving Behavior
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are 15 clues that provide police with reasonable suspicion and have a high success rate in predicting drunk driving. These are:
- Difficulty exiting the vehicle if requested
- Difficulty with keys or other vehicle controls
- Having trouble handling driver’s license, registration, or insurance
- Balance problems, including swaying
- Leaning on the vehicle for support
- Slurred speech
- Repeating questions or comments
- Slow response to questions
- Inability to follow directions
- Changing answers and/or providing incorrect information
- Flushed face
- Red, bloodshot, watery, or glassy eyes
- Alcohol odor on the driver
- Aggressiveness or inappropriate behavior
- Dirty or disheveled clothing
Whereas none of these signs prove conclusively that a suspected driver is, in fact, drunk, the more that are present tend to demonstrate a higher likelihood that s/he likely is.
Police officers may also look inside a suspect’s vehicle for additional evidence supporting an officer’s assertion of drunk driving. Of course, the most obvious clue is empty alcohol containers like beer cans or bottles on the floor.
Police may not search an individual’s vehicle without consent; however, they may make a visual inspection through windows and open doors, and if given any reasons to suspect that the driver is, in fact, driving under the influence, will usually not hesitate to make an arrest. Of particular importance is that, following an arrest, officers are legally permitted to search the individual’s car without consent.
What to do After Being Stopped
All drivers who see those red and blue lights in their rear-view mirror should immediately pull over to the right side of the road, take out his/her registration and insurance card, turn on the dome light (if at night), and place both hands on the steering wheel so the officer can see them.
Stopped drivers should always be courteous, but not admit to anything. The only information the driver must provide at the outset of a traffic stop is his/her driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. If the officer asks whether the driver has been drinking, the best response is something along the lines of, “Would you like to see my license and registration?” or “Why do you ask?” This makes the officer explain why s/he initiated the traffic stop in the first place, and the burden of proof is on the officer to demonstrate his/her reasonable suspicion that the driver is DWI.
Pursuant to the law, police may ask the driver to step out of his/her vehicle to perform roadside sobriety tests, if necessary. There is no penalty for refusing to perform these tests, and the only reason for them is to give the officer justification for a chemical test. Refusing a chemical test is generally not permitted. In Minnesota, drivers may not refuse a breath test without serious criminal and administrative penalties; however, the US Supreme Court recently held that drivers may refuse a blood or urine test without a warrant.
For more information, or if you or a loved one is facing DWI charges, please contact us.
Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.