What does “reasonable suspicion” mean in a drunk driving stop?

What does “reasonable suspicion” mean in a drunk driving stop?

Drunk driving stops are one way that police officers try to keep the roads safe. Some drivers don’t realize, however, that officers can’t initiate a traffic stop unless they have a valid reason to conduct it. There must be “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is in progress or was committed. 

Reasonable suspicion is a very low legal standard. It essentially means little more than the police have some reason to think that a crime might be happening or have already occurred. 

What gives an officer reasonable suspicion to stop a car and see if the driver is impaired?

Reasonable suspicion for a drunk driving stop means that the officer sees at least one sign of impaired driving and, therefore, has a reason to believe that the driver might be intoxicated. There are several signs that are possible. Some of the common ones include:

  • Braking for no reason
  • Turning illegally
  • Straddling the centerline
  • Swerving in and out of lanes
  • Driving slowly or erratically
  • Failing to follow traffic signals and signs

Officers may also pull a vehicle over if there are other things amiss. Things like a broken tail light or cracked windshield might provide a valid reason for the initial stop, after which a driver’s behavior (slurring their words, looking glassy-eyed, etc.) can lead to reasonable suspicion regarding intoxication.

Any driver who’s pulled over for the suspicion of drunk driving will be asked to submit to a chemical test. Some officers may ask the driver to complete a field sobriety test. These can provide the probable cause, or proof, for an arrest. 

Determining your defense options when you’re arrested for drunk driving is important. Some options, such as those that have to do with the administrative penalties of this criminal charge, have time limits. Because of this, you should work closely with an attorney quickly after the arrest to learn what options you have.