The Law Blog of Oklahoma

Holiday DUI: What Police Look For

Posted: Friday, November 25, 2016


The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day are some of the heaviest traveled times on Oklahoma roads. Unfortunately, this time of year also has some of the highest rates of DUI arrest. Police and state troopers know that many people are celebrating at office parties, gatherings with friends, and family get-togethers, and they use this busy holiday season to crack down on impaired drivers.

One of the key tools law enforcement uses for bringing in DUI arrests is the sobriety checkpoint, or DUI roadblock. Police or OHP troopers will select a spot to set up the roadblock and screen all drivers coming through. While a number of DUI arrests come from these roadblocks, the reality is that these seem to net more arrests for outstanding warrants than for impaired driving.

Another tool for cracking down on drunk driving during the holidays is increased traffic patrols. In these "saturation patrols," police departments put more patrol vehicles on the roads to watch for cars that may be manned by impaired drivers.

In order for police to make a drunk driving arrest, they must first conduct a lawful traffic stop. It is illegal for law enforcement to "cherry pick," or to stop a car at random and screen the driver for signs of impairment. A legal traffic stop is conducted when police observe evidence that a law is being broken. Such evidence could include a driver running a stop sign, a broken tail light, speeding, or a driver's inability to stay in his or her lane. Many DUI arrests come not from erratic driving, but rather from an ordinary stop for a simple traffic violation.

What do officers look for in order to determine whether or  not a driver may be impaired? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provided law enforcement agencies with a list of clues through its publication, The Visual Detection of DWI Motorists

The publication lists four categories of behaviors that may show impairment:

  • Problems in maintaining proper lane position
  • Speed and braking problems 
  • Vigilance problems 
  • Judgment problems

Within each category, the NHTSA lists specific behaviors and the likelihood a person is impaired based on the observation of one or more of these behaviors.

Problems Maintaining Proper Lane Position

• Weaving • Weaving across lane lines • Straddling a lane line • Swerving • Turning with a wide radius • Drifting • Almost striking a vehicle or other object

Speed and Braking Problems

• Stopping problems (too far, too short, or too jerky) • Accelerating or decelerating for no apparent reason • Varying speed • Slow speed (10+ mph under limit)

Vigilance Problems 

• Driving in opposing lanes or wrong way on one-way • Slow response to traffic signals • Slow or failure to respond to officer’s signals • Stopping in lane for no apparent reason • Driving without headlights at night • Failure to signal or signal inconsistent with action

Judgment Problems

• Following too closely • Improper or unsafe lane change • Illegal or improper turn (too fast, jerky, sharp, etc.) • Driving on other than the designated roadway • Stopping inappropriately in response to officer • Inappropriate or unusual behavior (throwing, arguing, etc.) • Appearing to be impaired

Additionally, the agency lists "Post Stop Cues" that could indicate impairment even if the reason for the traffic stop did not show a high likelihood of impairment. These include the following:

• Difficulty with motor vehicle controls • Difficulty exiting the vehicle • Fumbling with driver’s license or registration • Repeating questions or comments • Swaying, unsteady, or balance problems • Leaning on the vehicle or other object • Slurred speech • Slow to respond to officer or officer must repeat • Providing incorrect information, changes answers • Odor of alcoholic beverage from the driver

Of course, the best way to avoid a DUI arrest this holiday season is to avoid driving after drinking. If, however, you find yourself under arrest for possible DUI, call to speak with an attorney about your case. We can help.

Image credit: NewYork Lawyers


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