No one wants to see the flashing lights of a police car in their rearview mirrors. It's easy to panic when you are pulled over and a police officer suspects you of drunk driving. But you do have rights during a traffic stop. Remembering them, and remaining calm, might be the key to keeping an already tense situation from escalating.
If you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI, here are four things you should do:
- Pull over only when it's safe to do so: Once you see the flashing lights behind you, switch on your hazard lights. This lets the police officers behind you know that you've seen them and recognize that they want you to pull over. Then, once it is safe to do so, pull over. It's best to pull into a parking lot. If you're on the highway, you might have no choice but to pull over on the side of the road when it's safe to do so.
- Once you've pulled over, you can turn off your car's engine. But don't reach into your glovebox until a police officer comes to your car and asks for license and registration.
- Be polite: It's important, as an officer asks you questions, to remain polite. You can ask why an officer pulled you over. But do so in a calm tone. Don't shout at an officer, and don't ask officers why they aren't worried about the "real criminals." You don't want to start the conversation off on an adversarial tone.
- When the officer asks for your license and registration, first tell them where they are. If they are in the glove compartment of your car, tell the officer this before reaching over to get them.
- Ask why you are being pulled over: It's OK to ask why officers stopped you, as long as you do so in a polite manner. It's important to learn as quickly as possible what you're being accused of. It might something minor, such as a broken taillight. It might be something more important, such as suspicion of drunk driving. The sooner you know, the better prepared you'll be for the rest of the traffic stop.
- Only provide answers that won't hurt your case: If officers ask how many drinks you had, don't say "none" if that isn't true. If an officer asks if you were drinking before you started driving, don't say you weren't if you were.
- A better approach is to politely decline to answer questions. If you're worried that a truthful answer will hurt you, calmly tell the officer that you are not comfortable providing an answer. This is legal. You are not required to answer any questions that make you uncomfortable.
Here are three things not to do when pulled over:
- Don't get out of the car: Never get out of your car unless officers ask you to leave the vehicle. Officers might view you leaving your car as a threat. You don't want to make the officers pulling you over nervous. Instead, remain in your vehicle and wait for a police officer to approach your car.
- Don't take a field sobriety test: If an officer asks you to leave your vehicle, you can't refuse. But you can refuse to take a field sobriety test. Again, refuse these tests politely, stating that you're not comfortable with taking them. This, too, is perfectly legal.
- Refusing a test might mean that you'll be arrested and taken to a detention facility or hospital for a blood or breath test. If officers find that your blood alcohol level is higher than 0.08 percent, you should immediately ask for a lawyer. Do not answer any questions -- including about how many drinks you've had -- until your lawyer shows up.
- Don't forget that your lawyer is your ally: If you have been given a violation or you are arrested, work closely with your attorney to devise the best solution possible. This legal professional can help you determine your next steps and will fight for your rights if you do face a serious charge. If you are found guilty of drunk driving, the consequences will be severe. An attorney can help lessen the damage and return your life to normal as quickly as possible.