If you have been drinking enough to be drunk then simply don't drive. The risks are to great to have an accident and hurt someone or yourself. You could wreck your car and other property costing you lots of money. Another prime reason not to drive if you are drunk is you may be arrested which can lead to loss of license, jail time, fines, and higher insurance rates.
But most people know that you don't have to feel like you are drunk to be arrested, charged with drunk driving, and found guilty. Even if you think you are driving responsibly things can happen leading to an inadvertent accident which may be the other drivers fault. Any alcohol in your system may be grounds to determine the accident was your fault. Just because you feel you are driving good and only drank a little does not mean you cannot be charged with a DUI.
Does this seem right? Is this the best use of our legal system arresting people for drunk driving even though they were below the legal limit?
The vast majority of public does like to drink anywhere from an occasional drink up to those who may have a drinking problem. To completely avoid the possibility of a DUI you need to drink zero alcohol. This means no enjoying a glass of wine with dinner, no beer after a day of skiing or golfing, no champagne at a wedding, no meeting friends for a drink after work, and all the other reasons people enjoy having a drink. You can see the problem with where we are in today's age. However if you do choose to drink and drive there are some basic steps to do and think about to lessen the chances of being stopped and arrested for driving while under the influence.
A police officer needs a reason to pull over a vehicle. There must be some violation of a statute or law for the stop to be considered a legal stop. With that being said the police can almost always find some reason to pull a car over if they really want to. But generally they will pick a vehicle that is doing something that will be easy to justify such as speeding, failure to signal, swerving over lane lines, or having a mechanical problem with their car such as a light out. Therefore if you are obeying normal driving laws we all know about and don't have mechanical issues you won't have a cause to be pulled over. These type of stops are all avoidable.
On a regular basis you should check all your lights, turn signals, brake lights, license plate light, and all other visible mechanical items to make sure all are working. Make sure dirt is not obstructing your license plate and your headlights are properly aimed. When driving during winter make sure windows are clear of snow, ice and not fogged up as this can even be a reason to be pulled over.
A vehicle that has cracked windows, broken light lenses, loud exhaust pipes, darkly tinted windows, damaged body parts hanging off, or obstructed windows will give an officer an opening to pull you over. Most times this won't matter but if it happens after drinking even if below the legal limit it can lead to a DUI arrest and conviction.
Police cars are using newer and newer technology and scanners. They can scan license plate numbers from multiple cars in front or passing on the road and instantly alert an officer if a car is registered to someone who has a suspended license. They can also check to see if a vehicle is registered to someone who has been convicted of a DUI. Officers spend a good amount of time driving around and scanning license plates to get a hit in their computer. When they do they will look for a reason to pull that vehicle over, particularly late at night when chances are greater someone has been drinking.
By violating traffic laws this will attract attention of a patrol officer and may lead to a pull over. Other abnormal driving such as driving too slow, signaling way earlier than needing to, and following too close can bring attention to your vehicle. It is very common to break some sort of law just by normal driving and if you have an officer following behind you the longer they have you in their sights the higher the probability they may see a reason to pull you over. If you do see an officer following behind you and you have the chance to turn into a store, parking lot, or turn onto a different road your should do this rather than have the officer continue following. If you have not drank any alcohol its not an issue but if you have drank some it is best to avoid any contact. Make sure your seat belt is on and you are not talking on your phone or texting.
Time of Day and Location
It should not be a surprise that late at night around bars the police tend to patrol the streets and can see patrons come out of the bar or club and get into their vehicles. There is a high likelihood that a stop will be of someone who had some drinks. Not only do they watch bars but also sporting events, weddings, company parties, and any other public functions which alcohol is likely to be consumed. If in one of these situations and can avoid being seen by taking an alternate route less patrolled this can help. If you can't do this then you want to blend in with traffic and avoid standing out.
When driving later in the evening avoid parts of town that tend to have several bars or clubs which will attract more patrols. If you need to go a little further to avoid going through a hot spot in town it may be the best decision you made that night and in the long run save you time and a lot of grief.
If You Are Stopped, What Should You Do?
Even with the best intentions and attention to driving it is possible you can be pulled over for a minor infraction or a burned out light. If you have been drinking you will probably be racking your mind trying to think about what you have heard about what to do.
If you are pulled over you will want to safely pull off the road and preferably to the right side of the road. Remain in the vehicle and roll down your window. An officer never knows what they may be getting into and always leery of weapons. Keep both of your hands on the wheel when the officer approaches which will put them at ease that they can see your hands. Roll down the window but stay in the vehicle. An officer will always ask for your license, registration, and insurance card. Keep these in a location easily accessible like your glove box but know where they are at so you don't have to start fumbling and searching. Turn on your dome light to help the officer see inside the vehicle. These actions will make the officer feel more comfortable and not be concerned for their own safety. If you have a chance while being pulled over roll your windows down to vent any alcohol odor but don't make this obvious to the officer.
Once communication has started be very courteous to the officer but watch what you say. Don't admit to anything that may lead the officer to believe you have been drinking. If the officer asks if you have been drinking don't give them an answer. Try to change the question like do you want my license and insurance? or why do you ask? or say I would rather not answer any questions. The only obligation is to give your license, registration, and proof of insurance. Don't admit to even having one beer or drink because admitting this will lead the officer to pursue the drinking aspect further. Otherwise the officer must base any impressions on your behavior. The less you talk, the less possibility of slurring some words and letting smell of alcohol come off your breath. Being quiet and not conversing with the officer is not an indication of impairment.
If the officer does suspect that you have had some drinks by your behavior, or smell of alcohol they may ask you to get out of your car. If asked to step from your car you need to do this without arguing. At this point the officer is going to try to build probable cause to determine whether to arrest you or not. Field sobriety tests are common tests performed to indicate impairment. These tests are voluntary. If the officer asks you to do these tests do not take them. Refuse to take them in a courteous manner. You could say a simple no thank you I would prefer not to take them. Or you could ask the officer if they are 100% accurate and then say no as any officer should not say they are. By refusing these test there is no penalty on your part and only helps them determine a reason to take an evidential chemical test wither through a breathalyser of blood test. The field sobriety tests are subjective on how the officer writes down the results and are commonly failed by someone who is sober. They are asking you to perform a test that is not normal behavior and is difficult to do. Walking toe to heel, standing on one leg, try it as it is not easy to do.
In most state the officers will have a portable breath test in their patrol car and may ask if you will submit to a breath test. You do need to check your state laws as some states will require you to take this test even though it is not an evidential test. In Washington State the PBT test in the field is a voluntary test which should be refused. The officers must advise you it is voluntary and not an alternative to the evidential test taken at the police station if taken in. Do not take agree to take the field sobriety tests of the portable breath test. They use these tests to help build a case against you.
Most states including Washington State have implied consent laws which by obtaining a license have automatically agreed to take a chemical test for driving under the influence at an official blood alcohol concentration center or blood draw. Refusal to take this test can result in longer automatic license suspensions, higher fines, and potentially more jail time. If you refuse to take the field sobriety tests and any roadside test, and have not admitted to drinking, then the officer can only base their decision on requesting a chemical test on your driving and demeanor.
If you have not drank too much and your demeanor is good then the officer should not be able to establish any further reason to arrest you and take you in for a chemical test. The officer must have probable cause to request a chemical test if if done so without proper probable cause this can be used as a defense and can potentially lead to a lawsuit against the police department for any damages. In Washington State once arrested the vehicle must be impounded which can run $300-$400 to get out and there is a twelve hour hold.
Many police cars are equipped with video and audio surveillance to record stops. New bodycams are getting more widespread that officers wear on their chests. If you are not drunk it will be advantageous to have the stop recorded. You can ask if there is video and audio surveillance and ask for them to be turned on. If you are drunk, stumbling, slurring words you may not want to. However if you have only drank a little the tapes can help prove your innocence as it is hard for the police officer to write in their report that your speech was slurred and poor dexterity when the tapes prove otherwise and show you able to speak clearly without signs of intoxication.
Another tool an officer may use is a flashlight equipped with an electronic alcohol sensor. If the officer is sticking this in your face politely ask them now to. You don't have to be subject to this type of probing and can tell the officer to keep it away from your face and on the outside of your vehicle. If an officer asks if they can search your car the answer should always be NO. They have a right to look from the outside into your car but do not have the right to search your car looking in your glove box, under the seat, and any other non visible areas without a warrant.
Many times the next thing an officer will do is is ask to check your eyes with a light and have you move your eyes from left to right. This is called the nystagmus test and if there are jerky movements of your eyes can be a sign of intoxication. This is a voluntary test and you should refuse this test if asked to perform. Officers are supposed to tell you it is voluntary but many times will not. They are trying to build probable cause and regardless of what the test really shows an officer can write what they want in the report so it is always best not to take the test. All these test add to the prosecutions case.
You may be thinking the more I do what the officer wants the better chances I have of being let go. This is not going to be the case. If the officer believes you have been drinking and builds their probable cause through tests in the field then you will be taken in for the chemical evidential test. It does not matter how cooperative you are. There is no point in assisting them get to the conclusion you have been drinking and add to the prosecutions case. On the other hand by refusing all the tests it may very well irritate the officer but they will need some sort of probable cause to take you in and potentially set them up for action against them if you pass the chemical test, have gone through and arrest, had your car impounded, and all other issues related to a false arrest. The officer may just decide there is not enough there to move forward. Always be courteous and politely refuse field testing.
The prosecution uses this evidence to strengthen their case. Without these pre-screening tests all they will have is observations and the BAC test. If the BAC test i below the limit or just over they will have a weak case. Even if the BAC comes in high but they don't have the other tests, the BAC can be challenged in court.
In the event the officer does decide to take you in for a chemical test you will either be taking a breathalyzer, urine, or blood test. In Washington State it is almost always a breathalyzer test unless there was an accident involving an injury in which case a blood test will be taken at an approved facility. It is recommended that after being released you go get an independent blood test which may be useful for your defense.
The Breathalyzer is the most common test performed but also can be very unreliable. If the test shows you are within legal limits then the officer should let you go. Thus reason not to take any field testing since there will nothing else for them to have a case on. If your BAC comes in over the legal limit you should request a blood test be taken. Most counties will not offer this and will advise your your right to obtain an independent test on your own accord which you should do as soon as possible. Even though not highly publicized the Breathalyzer test is highly inaccurate with up to a 50% error rate.
In our society today we do not want drunk drivers on the road. Those drivers that are driving erratically, and potentially risking someone's life and their own. These are the cases where an officer can generally clearly tell if there is impairment and have probable cause to take someone in for chemical testing. However for those many drivers who have had just s couple drinks and do not show typical signs of intoxication too many officers use field sobriety tests which are subjective to what they want to write down to justify taking someone in for chemical testing who never should be. We need to remember that it is not illegal to drink and drive as long as you are under the legal limit. Someone who is a working constructive citizen can now be be placed in a situation of fines, license suspension, jail time, higher insurance, probation, and the humility of receiving a DUI.
If you have been arrested for DUI Russell West from West Law Office will fight for your rights and work diligently to ensure the best possible outcome. Call 509-993-0748 for a free consultation or if you have questions regarding a DUI arrest or DUI laws.