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The temperatures outside are reaching triple digits. Summer is officially in full swing. What else is in full swing--the police patrolling for drivers who may be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In Pennsylvania, summertime generally means an increase in police on the road looking for drivers who may be driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs or a combination of them. So all drivers must exercise caution and be aware that the police are out there.

Police generally use two means of detecting people driving under the influence: roving patrols and DUI checkpoints. Roving patrols are police driving the public roads looking for reasons to make traffic stops. They look for expired inspection and registration stickers as a means to pull a driver over and speak with him to see if they smell alcohol or drugs or see signs of a driver under the influence. They look for mechanical reasons to stop vehicles, such as taillight, headlight, or brake lights out as a means to pull a driver over and speak with him to see if they smell alcohol or drugs or see signs of a driver under the influence. Make no mistake about it, some police are looking for any reason to stop a driver on the roadway after dark because they think people are driving under the influence, especially after 9:00 p.m. Officers on roving patrols also are looking for what the law enforcement community would call “erratic driving”, which means changing lanes without signaling, changing lanes often, varying speeds for no apparent reason, driving over the speed limit, driving under the speed limit, crossing the fog line or center line, moving around in your lane of travel, taking wide turns, and many other minor movements of a vehicle that they can use as grounds for a vehicle stop. Police on roving patrols use a driver’s movements in his vehicle as grounds to stop him as a means to pull a driver over and speak with him to see if they smell alcohol or drugs or see signs of a driver under the influence. DUI checkpoints are set up by police in areas where drivers under the influence are predicted to be. These are usually business routes and areas frequently traveled by drivers to popular bars and restaurants. The police at a DUI checkpoint pull drivers into the checkpoint as a means to speak with him to see if they smell alcohol or drugs or see signs of a driver under the influence. They do not need to witness any signs of “erratic driving” to pull a driver over in a checkpoint.
Once a police officer pulls a vehicle over, either on roving patrol or in a DUI checkpoint, he is looking for outward signs of alcohol or drugs. The smell of alcohol is a very common sign police try to establish. Even one sip of alcohol can create the smell of alcohol that police look for on a driver’s breath, so be aware of this as a driver on the roadways who has had even one drink. Be aware of this. Also, police are looking for how a person speaks as a sign of impairment, so be short and to the point when addressing the police. Silence at times is better than replaying the events of your evening or why you had a bad day. Most police are not looking to cut you a break, so don’t bother trying to be overly friendly. Polite, to the point, and courteous is the way to go. Always try to follow directions. Police will also look at a person’s eyes as a sign of alcohol or drug use. Finally, police are looking for clues related to coordination as a means of detecting drivers under the influence. Can you find your license, registration and insurance information? If not, this is a surefire way of making the police believe you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, so have those documents in a handy and easily accessible place. They police will most often ask drivers to take a series of “standard field sobriety tests” to determine under the influence. These tests seem simple, but they are not. Some 60-65% of sober drivers fail these tests. The best approach is to listen carefully and try your best to complete the test. If you have a medical condition that would affect your ability to take the tests, tell the officer up front. Hopefully, that will make it into his report and may help later.
All this information makes one wonder whether the police are out to get us. Well, there is a lot of government funding tied into the enforcement of driving under the influence, and the police are very active looking for drivers who may be under the influence. What can you do to protect yourself, other than finding a designated driver? Start with using judgment and control. Do not drive if you feel remotely under the influence. Plan accordingly and have a sober driver. When driving, do so safely. Do not speed or weave through traffic. If you are in an unfamiliar area, use GPS so you have help finding your way. Check your vehicle’s exterior lights to make sure they work and make sure it properly registered and inspected.
In short, try not to give the police a reason to pull you over. If you do get pulled over, be prepared with your paperwork, be polite, and be to the point. Always follow directions and do not talk too much. If the police do arrest you, do not speak to them about where you drank, what drugs you did, etc. You are just making it worse. When faced with the choice to take a blood, breath or urine test for suspicion of DUI, be aware that failure to do so will result in a minimum 12 month license suspension by itself, so conduct yourself accordingly. And, finally if you do get charged, call an experienced lawyer to discuss your options. For all you know, you may have a good defense.


ddautrich150David R. Dautrich

 mdautrich150Michael D. Dautrich


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