Seeing the flashing lights of a law enforcement vehicle behind you can make your heart skip a beat. For some, knowing that they’ve recently consumed alcohol might be the cause of that fright. What some people don’t realize is that a police officer must have a valid reason to stop a vehicle.
Police officers don’t need to have proof that a law is being broken to initiate a traffic stop. Instead, they only need to have reasonable suspicion that something is amiss. The standard of reasonable suspicion is much lower than that of probable cause.
How reasonable suspicion differs from probable cause
Reasonable suspicion means that an officer thinks that a law is being broken. In the case of a drunk driving stop, this usually comes from the officer seeing behaviors that are associated with driver impairment. These commonly include:
- Swerving from one lane to another
- Straddling the center line in the road
- Hitting or nearly hitting roadside objects
- Driving far too fast or too slow for road conditions
- Failing to turn on the car’s headlights after dark
- Driving through red lights or stop signs without stopping
Once an officer stops a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion of drunk driving, they will have to determine whether the driver is impaired. This is sometimes done with a standardized field sobriety test, but more commonly the police use chemical testing to determine the person’s blood alcohol concentration.
If you’re stopped on the suspicion of drunk driving, remember that you have rights. One of these is to present a defense of the charges against you if you’re charged with drunk driving. Working closely with someone who’s familiar with these cases can help you to plan your defense strategy.