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The Florida Bar

What Signs of Driving Under the Influence Do Law Enforcement Officials Look For?

Broward DUI lawyer William Moore of the law firm of William Moore Criminal Defense says that all drivers should be aware of the signs that might catch the attention of a police officer who is out on late-night patrol, looking for drunk drivers and making DUI arrests in the Fort Lauderdale-Dade, Broward, and Fort Lauderdale metro area. Although each law enforcement officer or agency may have ideas about what behaviors are suspicious, it is clear that certain driving patterns consistently arouse officers’ suspicions across the country. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, which is charged with road safety, among other tasks, is a federal agency that handles drunk driving and other issues. The NHSTA has compiled a list of erratic driving signals that should tip off a law enforcement officer when a driver may be too impaired to safely (or legally) operate a motor vehicle. These include:

  • Swerving
  • Making wide turns
  • Stopping for no reason
  • Drifting out of the lane
  • Straddling the lines marked on the road
  • Weaving
  • Tailgating
  • Odd braking
  • Driving the wrong way into oncoming traffic
  • Sudden speeding up or slowing down
  • Driving more than 10 miles per hour slower than the posted speed limit
  • Other signs, including simply appearing to be intoxicated

Interestingly, some signs are more likely to indicate driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs than others. It is more likely that a driver who straddles the lane marker is drunk than one who drives at night without his or her headlights turned on. Likewise, drifting or driving significantly under the speed limit are more likely to indicate intoxication than a slow response to a traffic light or making an illegal U-turn.

Some law enforcement officers state that they sometimes consider speeding to be another sign of a driver who is committing a DUI, but the National Highway Safety and Traffic Board data does not bear out that belief. In any case, a law enforcement officer must always have reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring, has just occurred, or is about to occur in order to conduct a traffic stop (with the exception of DUI checkpoints or sobriety roadblocks, which have their own special rules).

Fort Lauderdale DUI Lawyer William Moore reiterates that this means that police officers cannot simply stop a vehicle for no reason. They cannot stop a car due to the driver’s or passengers’ race, age, or other factors. Instead, they must have a suspicion that they could articulate — not only a gut feeling — and it must be reasonable. For example, a police officer who smells marijuana smoke coming from a vehicle will have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is or has just occurred and will thus be able to stop the car. However, if he simply saw a group of young men in the car who looked to him like pot-smokers, that feeling would be insufficient

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