Drunk Driving Part 1: 9 reasons an officer might think you’re DUI
What to know about getting pulled over for a suspected DUI
It’s a situation everyone wants to avoid. You’re driving home from a friend’s house. You just want to lay down, watch some TV, and go to sleep. Then, suddenly, you see a flash of blue and red in your rear window, and before you know it, you’re on the side of the road trying to find your license and registration.
You might be thinking, ‘Why did this happen? Am I just unlucky?’
Contrary to popular belief, a police officer won’t usually pull people over at random and hope to catch an someone driving under the influence—which in Ohio is referred to as operating a vehicle impaired (OVI)—through pure luck. Instead, they’ll typically look for behavior that gives them reasonable suspicion or probable cause to investigate.
Reasonable suspicion means the police have a good reason to think that some sort of wrongdoing is going on. Probable cause is a higher standard, but can also justify a stop and investigation.
So, what circumstances will a police officer use as reasonable suspicion or probable cause to pull you over and check if you’re driving under the influence?
1. An accident
This one is fairly obvious. If an officer sees you get into an accident, or drives by your vehicle after you’ve already been in an accident, they’re going to stop and question you. During this time, they’ll look for signs of driver impairment, possibly due to the use of alcohol.
Another obvious one. If you go through a red light, turn without signaling, or drive the wrong way down a one way street, any nearby officer will take notice, and potentially assume that such an error may have been caused by the influence of alcohol.
3. Rolling stops
We’ve all done it, but it’s all the ammo a cop needs to pull you over. While rolling through a stop isn’t necessarily indicative of intoxication, it allows the officer a reason to pull you over for further investigation.
4. Erratic braking
If you appear to be braking without reason (for instance, if there are no speed bumps or slow vehicles in front of you), an officer may think you’re having difficulty maintaining a consistent speed, and that you might be intoxicated.
5. Swerving (even within your own lane)
Of course, swerving into the oncoming lane is a big red flag, but even swerving within your own lane is enough of a reason for a police officer to stop you and check to see if you’re DUI.
Similar to swerving, if an officer notices your vehicle continually listing to one side or another, they’ll assume you’re either falling asleep at the wheel, or that you’re driving while impaired.
Alcohol can affect a person’s attention span, as well as one’s awareness of their personal surroundings. This can result in missing speed limit signs, forgetting the speed limit, or simply being unaware of how fast one is travelling.
8. Driving too slow
When someone decides to drive drunk, and knows they shouldn’t be, they will sometimes try to be overly cautious to balance things out. This often results in slow speeds and slow reaction time. If an officer notices you exhibiting this behavior, they may pull you over. But interestingly, some Ohio courts may not agree with this justification. It’s not always considered reasonable suspicion to stop car for driving too slowly. Like anything else in the law, it all depends on the circumstances.
9. Not allowing enough following distance
Alcohol affects depth perception, so if a police officer spots you driving on top of another vehicle’s bumper, they can stop you to check if you’re DUI.
Regardless of the reason, if you are ever pulled over, always remember to be patient and polite when talking to the police officer. Absolutely nothing can be gained by expressing anger or frustration. In fact, doing so can only make your situation worse. We’ll go over more details of what the police are looking for after pulling you over for a suspected DUI in part 2 of this series.
If you were pulled over and charged with a DUI, contact one of Yavitch & Palmer’s specialized drunk driving lawyers. They will thoroughly investigate every circumstance surrounding your case and work to get your drunk driving charges minimized, or thrown out completely.