What signs of impairment does the officer look for?

Police officers are given extensive training in how to identify an intoxicated or otherwise impaired driver.    These signs can be grouped into three different phases – the “vehicle in motion” phase, the “personal contact” phase and the “pre-arrest screening” phase.

The “vehicle in motion” phase begins before the officer makes contact with the driver.  Signs of impairment that an officer will be looking for during this stage include reckless driving, swerving over the center or side lines of the lane, excessively slow driving, driving at night without headlights on, erratic braking and stopping without reason.  Any traffic violation observed by the officer may constitute a sign of impairment.  If an officer is called to the scene of an accident that occurs late at night, a suspicion of impairment is almost always in play.

Once you have been pulled over, the officer will begin looking for signs of impairment based on their direct observations.  The officer will be trained to notice factors apparent to sight, smell and hearing.  A strong smell of alcohol in the car or on the driver is always a tip-off.  A driver sucking on a mint, potentially to mask the smell of alcohol, may also be suspicious.  The officer may look for visual cues such as disheveled appearance, unfocused or bloodshot eyes, or empty containers in the car.  Behavioral cues are also a significant factor in this phase.  Fumbling or inability to multitask (for example, inability to answer questions while simultaneously retrieving identification or insurance information), slurred speech and confused responses to questions are telltale signs of alcohol impairment.

If the officer maintains suspicions of impairment after your initial interaction, they may ask you to exit the car.  In doing so, they will be looking for additional signs of impairment.  These can include leaning on the car for stability, swaying, staggered movement or clumsiness.  The officer may ask you to take a Field Sobriety Test (FST), during which they will ask you to perform some physical tasks that legal statute indicates an unimpaired individual should be able to complete without issue.  Common tasks include walking in a straight line, heel-to-toe, and balancing on one foot for thirty seconds.

If the determines there is enough evidence to arrest you for impaired driving, you will be brought in and asked to perform a chemical test.  These tests can be comprised of a blood test, breathalyzer or urine test.  These tests provide empirical data relating to your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), and will be the most important piece of evidence used to determine whether to charge you with a DUI.

Posted in: DUI