A majority of charges for driving under the influence are made as the result of a traffic stop by police. Although being pulled over for any reason can make a person’s heart sink, it is important for motorists to understand the process so that they know what to expect.

Probable Cause

In order to perform a traffic stop, a police officer first needs probable cause, which is essentially a legal reason to pull a car over. Any violation of traffic law will give a police officer the probable cause that he or she needs to perform a traffic stop. Some of the most common reasons for police to pull a vehicle over include speeding, swerving / straddling lanes, and following too close. Once probable cause is established, the officer will begin the traffic stop, which is when the motorist will see blue and red flashing lights in the rear view.

Preliminary Check

If motorists have ever wondered what police officers were doing in their patrol cars before they came up to speak to them, they can wonder no more. The first thing a police officer does when a vehicle is pulled over is announce to dispatch that he or she has initiated a traffic stop, for what reason, and on what kind of vehicle. The officer will also send dispatch the vehicle plate number so that the plates can be ran through California’s law enforcement database and also so that, if the vehicle flees, it can be tracked down later. It is absolutely important that while the officer is communicating with dispatch and conducting a preliminary check of the vehicle that the driver and all occupants of the vehicle remain in their positions, with seat belts engaged, for the safety of everyone involved.

On Approach

When the officer finally approaches the vehicle to make contact with the driver, this is usually when the officer will examine the totality of the scene to determine whether or not DUI should be suspected. The officer will observe the demeanor of the occupants of the vehicle, the odors coming from the vehicle, and the physical condition of the driver. Although it is only the driver that officers are usually concerned with, the totality of the entire scene can give the police cause to detain the driver for further investigation.

Once Accused After Traffic Stop

Since the police officer won’t usually announce immediately that a person is suspected of DUI, a person may not be aware that he or she may even be suspected of the offense. Therefore, it is best to refuse to answer any questions that don’t pertain to identification. Questions about where a party is going or coming from and about how many drinks everybody has had don’t technically need to be answered. Questions that establish a person’s identity, like name and date of birth, can and should be answered.

If presented with a request to complete sobriety tests, the types of tests that can be seen administered to motorists by the side of the road, the suspect should also refuse. These tests are not required by law and in no way give an accurate depiction of the amount of alcohol or drugs in a person’s body.

The only request that a DUI suspect can’t refuse as a matter of law is a request for a sample of either blood, breath, or urine for chemical testing. These tests are not conducted by the side of the road and are generally conducted in a professional setting, like police department office or hospital room.

As soon as they get the chance, DUI suspects should contact an experienced DUI attorney. Until contact with an attorney is made, it is absolutely vital to the suspect’s defense that no comments be made or questions answered.

DUI traffic stop