How to Identify Drunk Driving on the Road
Drunk drivers are a significant danger on the roadways in the United States. According to the CDC, nearly 30 fatalities occur every day due to accidents caused by intoxicated drivers. Alcohol or other drugs that cause cognitive impairment have a negative impact on many of the important skills needed for safe driving including the following:
- Reaction time
- Color distinguishing
Alcohol also causes drowsiness and in extreme cases, highly impaired drivers may lapse into unconsciousness while behind the wheel. Penalties are severe for drunk drivers because all drivers on the roadways owe a duty of care to protect others on the road with them by driving carefully, with full mental acuity, and following all traffic laws. When a person gets behind the wheel while intoxicated they are breaching that duty of care and risking lives including their own and those of others.
Signs a Driver on the Road May Be Intoxicated
Because impaired drivers pose a risk to others on the road, it’s important to understand the signs that a driver may be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Some common indications of impaired driving are what police officers use as “reasonable suspicion” to pull a driver over. These include the following:
- Swerving, such as frequently drifting toward the center line and then swerving back into the proper lane
- Overcompensating for their impairment by driving very slowly, braking early before stop signs, and accelerating slowly
- Hugging or straddling the center line to avoid swerving
- Weaving through traffic
- Tailgating as a means of using the car in front of them as guidance when their own decision-making skills are compromised
- Making wide turns
- Ignoring road rules and traffic laws, such as driving with headlights off at night, driving through stop signs, failing to yield, and running through red lights
- Driving recklessly or at excessive speeds
Though a person of any age or gender could be intoxicated behind the wheel, studies show that men are responsible for more drinking and driving episodes than women, making up nearly 4 out of 5 known instances. Despite young men (ages 21-34) making up only about 11% of the population during the study, 32% of reported drunk driving instances were young male drivers.
Is It Always Legal to Pull Over a Driver for Suspected DUI?
State laws dictate that law enforcement officers may pull over drivers only if they have reasonable suspicion of a crime. For instance, radar evidence of exceeding the speed limit is a good reason to pull over a driver for speeding. When it comes to suspected driving under the influence (DUI), which is legally defined as a blood alcohol level of 0.08 and higher, police look for many of the above indicators, such as swerving and hugging the center line. This means “reasonable suspicion” is subjective. Sobriety checkpoints are the only exceptions to the rule requiring reasonable suspicion.
After pulling over a suspect, the officer carries out a limited investigation, after which they may perform field sobriety and breathalyzer tests if they still suspect the driver is under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Failing these tests establishes the probable cause an officer requires for arresting the DUI suspect.
Penalties for driving under the influence depend largely on the number of times an individual has been convicted of prior DUI episodes, ranging from misdemeanor offenses with $500 fines and up to 90 days jail time for first offenses, to second-degree felonies with mandatory 10-year minimum sentences for repeat offenders past their eighth DUI offense.
If a drunk driver caused an accident resulting in your injury, speaking with a New Mexico drunk driving accident lawyer can help you hold the negligent party responsible and seek compensation.