Thursday, October 10, 2013

How to Avoid Being Pulled Over for DUI

Here's a question that I hear often:  What can I do to reduce the chances that I'll be stopped on suspicion of DUI?  The short answer is, "Don't drink or use drugs before driving".  Duh.

If only it were that easy.

Though they won't admit it, cops are often under immense pressure to make a lot of DUI arrests, even if those arrests don't result in convictions.  Awards, promotions and grants are often tied to the number of arrests that an officer or a department makes in a given year, with little or no regard for the arrestees' actual guilt or innocence.  Cities make big money on towing and impound fees and police get to tout their aggressive stance against drunk drivers.  Too often, this leads cops to err on the side of making the arrest, even when the evidence is lacking.

The DA might eventually decline to pursue the case against you, but the harm may already be done.  By the time you're exonerated, you've probably had one of the worst nights of your life -- you've been handcuffed and transported the local jail, booked and photographed, thrown into a crowded holding cell full of real criminals and released some time the next day.  Good luck explaining everything to your boss and your kids.

Here are some easy steps that you can follow to reduce the chances that you'll be stopped on suspicion of DUI --

1.  Obey all traffic laws:  Breaking some minor traffic law is the #1 reason that people are stopped and arrested for DUI.  Use your turn signals, obey the posted speed limits and don't do anything to draw unnecessary attention to yourself.  Some of the rules that follow are simply reiterations of this basic no-brainer.  Remember, police don't need "probable cause" to stop you -- they only need "reasonable suspicion".  Reasonable suspicion is what it sounds like -- some set of facts that would cause a reasonable person to suspect that you might be up to something illegal.  Don't give them that reason.

2.  Ensure that your vehicle is "up to code" and in proper working order:  Are ALL exterior lights functioning?  This includes the little light above your license plate and the third brake light in your rear window.  ANY non-functioning exterior light can be cause for a traffic stop, even if the light itself is superfluous or not required by law.  It sounds ticky-tacky (and it is), but cops can and will stop you for a single non-functioning LED bulb anywhere on the exterior of your vehicle.

-Are your tags current?

-Are your windows illegally tinted?

-Is your exhaust illegally modified?

-Do you have a front license plate?

-Are you wearing your seat belt?

-If you drive a lifted truck or jeep, are your fenders up to code?

-Is your music too loud?

-Do you have objects on your dashboard or in your rear window that might be obstructing the driver's view?

-If you're smoking, don't litter with your cigarette butt (this goes for everybody at all times, not just drivers.  Seriously, some of us live here.)

These are the kinds of non-moving violations that can lead to unwanted contact with law enforcement.

3.  Don't talk on the phone or text:  This goes back to rule #1 -- don't break the law.  Even if the police don't see you using the phone, taking your eyes off of the road may cause you to "drift" or "weave".  That drifting / weaving can be misinterpreted as "impaired driving" and could be the basis for a traffic stop.

4.  Don't draw unnecessary attention to yourself:  Remember what I said above -- Cops don't need probable cause to pull you over; they just need a reason to suspect that something might be wrong.  You can be stopped even if you're not breaking any laws.  Accelerating or braking too quickly or too slowly might attract police attention, even if those acts are not necessarily crimes in themselves.  The same goes for taking turns too fast or hitting dips too hard.

5.  If you've already stopped before the police make contact with you, don't talk yourself into trouble:  Here's a situation that I see very often --

Abe and Ben are leaving the bar after having a couple drinks each.  Abe is driving Ben's car.  He's not wasted, but he's close to the legal limit.  They run out of gas on the freeway, so Abe pulls to the side of the road, makes a phone call, and waits for a friend to bring them a gas can.  After a few minutes, a CHP cruiser pulls up and the officer asks Abe if he's OK.  While speaking to Abe and Ben, the officer notices that they both smell like alcohol and appear to be displaying several objective symptoms of intoxication.  Here's where Abe makes his big mistake -- Abe tells the officer that he and Ben just left the bar and that he was driving Ben's car on the freeway when they ran out of gas.  He states that he was driving Ben's car because Ben had drank too much.  Abe denies consuming any alcohol since driving.  He further states that he smoked a small amount marijuana earlier in the day, but he's a qualified medical patient and he denies feeling any residual effects from the drug.

Abe has just convinced the officer to arrest him.  If he had simply exercised his right to remain silent, he might sleep in his own bed tonight.

If you're ever in this situation, remember that it is a crime to lie to the police.  You do not need an elaborate alibi.  Making false statements to the police can get you into more trouble than you're already in.  That being said, you don't have any obligation to incriminate yourself or to provide police with crucial pieces of evidence that will form the basis of the case against you.  You should politely refuse to answer any questions regarding where you were coming from, where you were going, whether or not you were the driver, what time you were driving, whether or not you have consumed any alcohol or drugs, whether or not you feel the effects of any alcohol or drugs, etc.  You must provide your name, driver's license, and proof of registration / insurance.  Always be polite, but never volunteer more information than necessary.

As always, be safe, be smart, but if you're neither, you know what to do.