What do cops look for when pulling someone over for drunk driving?

In most DUI cases, police officers pull over drivers who show signs of impairment while operating their vehicle or commit a traffic violation.

Police officers need “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is being committed to make a traffic stop. They then need “probable cause” – AKA a “preponderance of evidence” standard – to justify an arrest or a request for a search warrant.

A case can be thrown out if the officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to make an arrest. If your attorney can prove that the officer did not have reasonable cause, your case may be thrown out under a “motion to suppress.” 

So what kinds of actions allow a police officer to be “reasonably suspicious” that you might be committing a crime?

What Cops Look For When Pulling Someone Over

  • Swerving in your lane
  • Crossing over the divided lane marker
  • Speeding
  • Driving recklessly or aggressively
  • Following vehicles too closely
  • Running stop signs or red lights
  • Accelerating too quickly off the line
  • Playing music too loudly (noise violation)
  • Acting aggressive or obnoxious, such as honking at pedestrians
  • Violating any vehicle ordinance, such as not wearing a seatbelt or having a broken taillight
  • Delayed reactions, such as not going when a light turns gree

When a police officer pulls over a suspected drunk driver, they will also keep a close eye on how the individual retrieves and hands over their license and registration. They’ll look for signs of intoxication, like clumsiness in retrieving the documents or an odor of alcohol or marijuana.

If the officer made any of these observations, you’ll find them in the police report.

They may also be responding to reports from others, including those on the highway, passers-by, people in a neighborhood, or even people who saw you recently leave a drinking establishment. 

Note that a report of suspicious or belligerent behavior is just one piece of evidence to give an officer probable cause. They will usually need further evidence of a crime being committed before they can justify an arrest. 

However, if an individual reports an actual crime, like an assault, the officer may be able to justify an arrest based on that report alone.

Police Questioning and the Right to Remain Silent

On most occasions, a police officer will ask the driver they pulled over whether they’ve been drinking. Your answer to this and other questions will greatly determine how your case will proceed and what legal options you’ll have.

Here are a few things to remember if you are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving:

  • Remember that “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,” so try to say as little as possible. If you slur or misuse your words, a police officer can use that against you to prove you were intoxicated.
  •  Don’t admit to drinking or taking drugs. If you do, this will be used against you.
  • Do not refuse the breathalyzer. Pennsylvania’s implied consent law means you will likely face harsher penalties if you refuse to take the test.

You need to tell the officer if you wish to invoke your right to remain silent. Don’t just sit there and say nothing the entire time; you need to make sure the officer is aware that you are invoking that right.

It’s also important to remember that everything you say before your rights have been read may be used against you. Things happen quickly in the heat of the moment, but these tips will help protect your rights and may prevent other, more serious charges. For more information on what to do if you are pulled over after drinking, read more here. 

Arrested? Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Steven Kellis Can Help

The answer to the question “What do cops look for when pulling someone over?” is fairly straightforward. They’ll observe behaviors indicative of intoxication like stumbling or slurring, and they’ll observe any odors or paraphernalia related to alcohol or drugs.

If you are arrested, you have rights under the law in the State of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania DUI attorney Steven E. Kellis has defended hundreds of clients accused of drunk or drugged driving. He has successfully had clients’ charges reduced or dismissed, and he will work to reduce or drop yours as well. Call (215) 543-6566 for more information.