The Role of the Police
The first thing to understand in a DUI case is the reason why the police even make contact with a driver in the first place. Through the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, a series of “driving clues” have been recognized as indications that a person may be operating under the influence. When a trained police officer sees one of these driving clues, it gives the officer a reasonable suspicion to continue with an investigation. The clues can be broken down into 5 distinct categories, Maintaining Lane Position, Vigilance, Braking, Speed and Judgment.
Maintaining Lane Position
Maintaining Lane Position tends to be difficult for impaired drivers. A driver under the influence has an erratic driving pattern and several events can identify them to the police. Drifting, weaving, swerving and wide turns can identify an impaired driver quickly. Drifting can be defined as moving in a forward direction, but with a slight angle. Many times the driver will drift towards the centerline or the median slowly, correct the problem and begin to drift in the opposite direction. Weaving is when a car moves side to side from one lane to another usually moving around other vehicles. When a person under the influence operates a vehicle, they can be viewed as weaving even without the presence of other vehicles. Another sign of an intoxicated driver is one who comes extremely close to other objects, vehicles or even people. Drivers under the influence also tend to make wide turns. The driver may travel into the other lane when initiating the turn or while making it.
A driver’s vigilance is their ability to be aware of their surroundings, to be alert and take notice of their environment so that they may react appropriately. Driving into oncoming traffic and inconsistent signaling are two vigilance problems that can indicate driver intoxication. Driving into oncoming traffic occurs because the driver is not aware of their surroundings and is not alert and watching traffic signs. Improper signaling is also a sign that a driver may be intoxicated. A driver that is disoriented may signal and then turn in the opposite direction. This action is easily visible to officers of the law as well as other drivers signaling that there is a problem. According to former New Jersey State Trooper and DUI expert Gary Aramini, driving at night without headlights is one vigilance problem that is a very common action of drunk drivers. Their vision is usually impaired and they do not even notice that they do not have their headlights on.
Oftentimes, an intoxicated driver can be viewed easily by the way that they stop their vehicle. Abrupt stops are a key sign as well as stopping too far from or beyond the line on the road. Stopping too far from objects or hitting objects such as parking blocks or parking in spots at improper angles are also key signs of an intoxicated driver.
Slow speed can be enough reasonable suspicion to pull over a driver. Speeding is not a typical sign of drunk driving because driving at faster speeds requires faster reflexes which an intoxicated driver does not possess. Vehicles moving at slow or extremely slow speeds along with varying speeds such as slowing down and then speeding up can be determinants of drunk driving. Oftentimes, however, the initial contact with a driver is the result of an officer citing speeding as a reason for the initial stop of the arrested person.
Many times the judgment of a driver is impaired when they are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Illegal turns such as turning when a “No Turn on Red” is marked or turning and driving on one way streets or medians are judgment problems that often occur when a driver is under the influence. Driving on anything other than designated roadway such as center medians, shoulders or even grass on the sides or center of the road can also be sure signs that the operator of the motor vehicle is intoxicated.
Keeping the roads safe is a primary task of police officers, especially the officers on duty in the late evening and early morning hours, the “high time” for DUI arrests. If they determine that there is a possibility that a driver of a motor vehicle is impaired, they will not hesitate to pull the driver over and investigate further. If you are detained, always remember to be polite, as it may be that you are being audio or videotaped.