Three Simple Steps to Help Avoid a DUI Arrest

Avoiding a DUI arrest is the best way to avoid a DUI conviction. Having a designated driver or taking a taxi after you consume alcohol is the safest way to avoid an arrest. If you know you are under the influence, you should not drive. If you think it is safe to drive but worry that you might be near the 0.08 limit, there are three things you can do that could help you avoid a DUI arrest

1. Don’t give the police a reason to pull you over

Unless you encounter a “sobriety checkpoint” that stops all drivers, the police cannot pull you over without having a reasonable suspicion that you are committing a traffic offense. Unfortunately, the police find all kinds of driving behavior “suspicious,” particularly when it occurs near the time when bars are closing.

While you can be pulled over for speeding or violating any other traffic law, some officers will think that driving too slowly or waiting too long at a stop sign after stopping are signs that a driver might be under the influence. Try to drive as normally as possible. In particular, to avoid giving the police an excuse to stop you:

  • Obey all traffic laws.
  • Stay just under the speed limit.
  • Do not “rabbit” when the light changes from red to green but do not wait more than a few seconds to proceed into the intersection.
  • Stay in the middle of your lane. Do not swerve, weave, or allow yourself to drift from one lane marker to the other.
  • Signal your turns.
  • Wear your seat belt.
  • If you notice you are being followed by a police car, do your best to ignore it. The officer might be trying to intimidate you so that your driving behavior changes.

2. What to do if you are pulled over

If an officer activates a police car’s lights to stop you, do not try to evade the officer. You will just make a bad situation worse. Instead:

  • Immediately signal your movement onto the shoulder or into a parking lane. That will prevent the officer from claiming that you did not see or disregarded the officer’s lights if it takes you a minute to find a safe place to stop.
  • Do not stop abruptly. Look for an appropriate place to stop. Try to stop your car on the shoulder or in a legal parking spot.
  • Park appropriately. If you stop your car three feet from the curb, the officer will consider that as evidence of impaired driving ability.
  • Do not start chewing gum or pop a breath mint into your mouth. The police are trained to view that as evidence that you are trying to conceal the odor of an intoxicant.
  • Make sure your driver’s license can be easily removed from your wallet. The police will regard “fumbling” for your license as evidence of DUI. You might want to find your license while you are waiting for the officer to approach your car.
  • Speak clearly, at a normal volume. Officers are trained to regard slurred speech and unnaturally slow or loud speech as evidence of DUI.
  • If the officer asks “Have you been drinking?” do not answer, “I only had two beers.” Everyone says that. The officer will take your answer as an admission that will be held against you. Instead, say “My lawyer told me never to answer a police officer’s questions unless I have a lawyer present.”
  • If the officer asks you to get out of the car, do not grab the door or the side of your car for balance. The officer will view that as evidence of DUI.

3. How to handle field sobriety tests

The officer may ask you to take three field sobriety tests (FSTs). One test is a check of your eyes for nystagmus (twitching) as they move back and forth. There is nothing you can do to prepare for that test. Just do your best to follow the officer’s finger or pen with your eyes as it moves back and forth. Make sure to hold your head still.

The next two tests are about balance but they are also about your ability to follow instructions. It is often difficult to hear the instructions if you are stopped on a busy street or highway. Listen carefully to the officer’s instructions and ask the officer to speak up if the officer does not explain them clearly. If you have a disability or back pain that affects your balance, be sure to tell the officer about your condition.

The walk-and-turn test contains many components and you will need to remember all of them. The officer will assess a “point” for each instruction you disobey. If you accumulate too many points, you fail the test. Remember to:

  • Take 9 steps in each direction, not 8 or 10. Count out loud so you are sure to get the number right.
  • Walk heel-to-toe. Take care not to leave a gap between your heel and your toe.
  • Keep your arms at your sides. The officer will assess a point if you lift your arms.
  • Walk in a straight line. If there is actually a painted line for you to follow, stay on it. A point will be assessed if you step to the side.
  • Turn by taking a series of short, choppy steps. Do not pivot. Most people gain a point by turning smoothly instead of turning in the way the officer demonstrates.

The one-leg stand requires you stand on one leg for 30 seconds. Choose your strongest leg. A point will be assessed that will count toward failure of the test if you:

  • Fail to lift your foot at least 6 inches off the ground.
  • Stick your leg out in front of you rather than lifting your foot.
  • Put your foot down before the officer tells you the test is concluded.
  • Lift your arms from your sides.
  • Hop or lose your balance.

Both of those tests are easier to do if you have practiced them at home.