If you’re out late at night, maybe coming home from a social engagement, a long night at work or even just errands, you may wonder how much of a target you are for cops out for an evening patrol. Some people understandably wonder how to act when pulled over by police or what kinds of actions police officers have been trained to watch for so that they can be sure to avoid raising an officer’s curiosity, even in cases where you may not have had a drop to drink.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, police officers are trained to watch out for indications of impairment during three stages of a possible drunk driving encounter. First, in the “vehicle in motion” phase, during which the officer first encounters a potentially suspicious vehicle. Second, officers then are alert for indications of impairment during the “personal contact” stage when the officer first meets and interacts with the driver. Finally, officers pay careful attention during the “pre-arrest screening” phase, during which field sobriety tests and breathalyzers are administered.
But backing up for a moment, what are some of the things that officers watch for during the first step, the “vehicle in motion” stage? Experts say that officers are trained to look for any action that might indicate the person behind the wheel is under the influence of an intoxicating substance. Because things like alcohol and prescription drugs affect everyone in different ways, there is no one clear giveaway that a driver is impaired. Instead, officers must observe the totality of events and decide based on the information in front of them whether there is reason to pursue a traffic stop.
Some examples include vehicles that straddle the centerline of the road, cars that weave in between lanes or swerve off the side of the road. Even cars that technically stay in their lane can be suspect if the driver appears unable to remain in his or her lane of traffic without constant overcorrection. Cars that speed or even others that move too slowly for the traffic conditions can be targeted, as can those that forget to signal during turns or blow through stop signs. Other possible indications that a driver might be impaired include driving at night without your headlights, delayed reaction to other vehicles and excessive braking.
Beyond these specific actions, experts point out that in reality almost any traffic violation could be used to justify a stop by an officer who wants to check for signs of impairment. Especially when it’s late at night, small mistakes that might go unnoticed during daylight hours can trigger alarm bells for overly cautions officers.
Once you’re pulled over, officers then launch into the second stage of the interaction and then begin assessing drivers for a variety of other possible signs of impairment. For more information about what cops look for after pulling you over, check back next week for a discussion of the second step of the drunk driving stop process.
Source: “Police Identify Drunk Drivers through Signs of Impairment,” published at OhioBar.org.