DUI/DWI: How Cops Spot Drunk Drivers



The driver who turns up a fifth of Jack Black while singing Sweet Home Alabama at the top of his little redneck lungs is obviously driving while under the influence of alcohol. But what about the driver who chugs only three or four drinks before sliding in behind the wheel? What makes a patrol officer zero in on that guy? And, what if our redneck driver eats an onion after consuming his alcohol, or drinks a bottle of mouthwash? Will those tricks fool the officer’s breath-testing equipment?

Let’s start with some of the signs officers look for when scanning the roads for inebriated drivers. Here’s a few dead give-aways:

1) Stopping in the middle of the road for absolutely no reason. This maneuver is normally performed in front of a marked police car.

2) Driving the wrong way on a one-way street. The drunk driver is often seen flipping off approaching drivers.

2) Driving in the center of the road, straddling the center line. Again, this normally occurs in front of a police car.

White line drunk driver

3) Failing to dim headlights when meeting an oncoming car. Older drivers can often be seen stomping the left floorboard of the car (that’s where the dimmer switches were located forty years ago).

4) Traveling well below, or above, the posted speed limit. Note – Exception to this rule is an old guy wearing a John Deere hat. They always drive well below the posted speed limit. May or may not be drunk. This one’s a coin toss.

Exception number two – three-foot tall women over the age of eighty.

5) A car that strikes stationary objects on either side of the roadway as it passes by. Has the appearance of a pinball machine.

6) My personal favorite is the driver stopped at the red light beside a police car. First comes the casual sideways glance toward the officer, followed by a nod and the mule-eating-briars grin. Then, they just can’t help themselves. Down comes the window so they can tell the officer what a fine job he’s doing. The idiot cannot stop himself at this point. He simply has to inform the officer that his third cousin twice removed on his mother’s side of his daddy’s grandmother’s family was the chief of police in Doodlebunk, Kansas. Well, it’s pretty obvious he’s stoned out of his gourd. Of course, the bag of dope hanging out of his shirt pocket doesn’t help his case, either.

As for the onion trick. No way. Attempting to fool breath-testing equipment is a waste of time. The machines don’t measure the amount of alcohol in the air, or in the suspect’s breath. Instead, they measure the ratio between the concentration of alcohol in the blood and the concentration of alcohol that’s in deep lung air, air that’s in the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs).

So, eat an onion if you like, you’re the one who’ll be sleeping in a jail cell with bad breath.

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Crime Report of the Day

(from actual police reports)

The driver of a truck carrying radioactive material was charged with driving while intoxicated after her truck crashed Friday night.

20 replies
  1. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Elena – I wasn’t judging the actions of the officers. No way I could because I wasn’t there. But, based on what you told us I would have handled it differently. That’s all.

  2. Elena
    Elena says:

    In defense of the hard working officers I observed – in that state there was absolutely nothing they could do about the drunk until he either caused a ruckus, which he wasn’t, or he got into the car and actually caused it to move.

    There was no opportunity for a high speed chase (though they were fairly common), they had him blocked with no where to go.

    They very patiently did exactly the safe and proper thing.

  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Robin – You’re exactly right. The number one answer is, “Two beers.”

    Joyce – And number two is a tie for me. Either, “Nothing,” or, “I don’t drink, Officer.”

  4. Robin Burcell
    Robin Burcell says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, Lee, but if you took a survey of the number one answer to the question always asked: How much have you had to drink? and the person was really drunk, the answer would be…
    “Two (fill in the drink of choice.)”

  5. Auntieamy71
    Auntieamy71 says:

    SZ, you lost me on your post. Did you, yourself, get busted for drunk driving?

    I can honestly say that I have never been drunk ever because I saw the nasty side of being drunk before I ever got to the drinking part. In college, my next door neighbors were a couple of recovering alcoholics. Nicest women you would ever meet, with stories that would curl your hair.

    I also wound up being the designated driver for friends who had too much to drink with the understanding that if they threw up in my car, they cleaned it up.

    The result of all this? I had ZERO desire to EVER drink so much that I would get to the point of throwing up or having to deal with a hangover or getting arrested for DUI or….the even nastier parts of getting drunk.

  6. Rhonda Lane
    Rhonda Lane says:

    About 12 years ago, I took my town’s Citizen’s Police Academy. The training officer told us that officers on third shift can just about predict the BAC numbers by the way the drivers looked. Usually in the eyes.

  7. SaraThacker
    SaraThacker says:

    Very sad. We had friends who had to fight their friend for keys after a wedding last weekend. The guy finally agreed to be driven home but only if they would drive his truck home too.

    It’s best just not to do it.

  8. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Our officers here would NEVER have let the man drive. They would have cited him for public drunkenness and either towed the vehicle or had him call a sober friend or relative to take him and the car home.

  9. JD Rhoades
    JD Rhoades says:

    Ack! Sorry, hit submit before finishing (and obviously before proofreading). Anyway, on those facts the judge wasn’t going to let the driver go, so he contented himself with dressing the officer down in front of a courtroom full of people. Haven’t heard of a similar case since.

  10. JD Rhoades
    JD Rhoades says:

    “Hey JD, as a defense attorney how would the above scenario play out in your court? If the officers allowed the drunk to drive before nabbing him, would there be a defense that the officers obviously didn’t think he was too drunk to drive?”

    It sure would. Unfortunately, if they have an Intoxilyzer reading over .08, what they “thought” wouldn’t be relevant. I’ve tried to get the stop thrown out on that basis, i.e. that they obviously didn’t think he was doing anything wrong, therefore had no reasonable suspicion justifying the stop. No dice, though…the officer was foolish enough to say the guy was “clearly drunk, weaving as he walked.”

  11. SZ
    SZ says:

    Sadly I handed this cop a ticket. I had put my tags in the car and forgot. Five days before Cristmas it is a fishing expedition. I gave him pc to pull me over.

    It was a huge disappointment to hear him lie in front of me about the events on his report and the dmv hearing. (I passed the test, but not the breath)

    Even worse was the tow driver coming out before I was arrested. Very premeditated. Tows dont troll here, they are dispatched.

    A few months ago in class, there was a guy having dinner in Napa. He had a tow truck driver come out to jump his car. The tow guy called his buddy and before he could go back into the restaurant, he was arrested. Napa is five years automatic probation. The tow driver got a 100.00 spiff.

    The cost is immense folks. Dont do it. Factoid I did not know. I can not go to Canada for five years, and then I have to get approval with the Embassy. This is a gamble, even if you think you are fine to drive. It is not worth it !

  12. Terry
    Terry says:

    Well, Duh, Lee — how else would I know about those floor-mounted light controls without having one of those cars? I learned to drive on a Hillman Minx, btw. And I drove a Dodge Dart where the gear “shift” was buttons in the middle of the steering wheel. (After that car was totalled, I kept wondering why changing the radio station on my replacement didn’t put the car in reverse).

    And I love the story the cops tell about doing their DUI checkpoints and having the driver ask the cop to hold his beer while he got out his license.

  13. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I have to agree with JD Rhoades. Suppose the drunk driver had decided to lead the officers on a high speed chase, killing people along the way? Yep, it’s better to stop a drunk driver before they get on the road, not let them drive just to add another notch to the officer’s conviction stats (even though many departments are stat-driven).

    Hey JD, as a defense attorney how would the above scenario play out in your court? If the officers allowed the drunk to drive before nabbing him, would there be a defense that the officers obviously didn’t think he was too drunk to drive?

  14. JD Rhoades
    JD Rhoades says:

    “Of course our clever cops were waiting for him and nailed him the instant he drove onto the street.”

    Heh. Our judges tend to give a pretty thorough public dressing down to any officer who watches an obviously drunk person get into a car and drive off before stopping him.

  15. Elena
    Elena says:

    My favorite drunk driver episode happened when the manager of a sandwich shop called the police due to a drunk customer who was planning on driving off with his order.

    The call was answered by two very clever gentlemen who actually couldn’t do anything since the dude, while obviously drunk, wasn’t causing any problems. However, he absolutely refused to leave while they were there because, as he told all of us, he knew they’d arrest him and that would be the end of his driver’s license.

    One of the cops said to the other, ‘we might as well leave, he’s not drunk enough.’ and out they went.

    The guy took umbrage at this insult, told us all he’d show them, pulled out a bottle from his back pocket, downed it, took his sandwiches and left.

    Of course our clever cops were waiting for him and nailed him the instant he drove onto the street.

  16. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Terry – I not only remember cars with the dimmer switch in the floor, I owned one.

    Joyce – I don’t blame you for not wanting to do the pat-down. Besides, I’m guessing you’ve never received any formal training in that area (not that it’s rocket science or anything). Suppose the person decides to sue you for doing something wrong?

    Ramona – …

  17. ramona
    ramona says:

    Well, darn, Lee, what’s the point of having kin in Doodlebunk, Kansas, if they don’t help you charm the police?

  18. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    I remember the switch on the floor, too. Of course, this was when I was a mere youngster learning how to drive…

    Great blog, Lee! We had a DUI arrest here a few weeks ago where the woman took out a set of concrete steps and didn’t even know it. She had stopped her car because she had a flat tire. Meanwhile the entire passenger side of her car was demolished!

    Several years ago, they arrested a guy at 9am whose BAC was high enough that it would have killed a normal person. When the officer asked him if he had been drinking, he responded, “Of course I have. I’m Irish!”

    Btw, I just ticked off some of the guys here because I refused to do a pat down search on a female junkie they just arrested. I’m NOT getting stuck with a needle!

  19. Terry
    Terry says:

    OK — I admit it. I remember the dimmer switches on the floor. I could deal with that. What with the turn indicator, headlights and windshield wiper stick thingies doing everything but make coffee these days, I’m always getting things wrong. Click it up? Down? Twist?

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