No one is excited to see flashing red and blue lights in their rearview mirror. You may get lucky and the police are responding to a call somewhere else. Unfortunately, if the officer is right behind you, you are probably in for a traffic stop. Even if you do not know what the officer is pulling you over for, you may feel like you must have done something wrong.
Under California law, the police have to have a reason for making a traffic stop. They can't pull you over for some vague reason like they think you look suspicious. However, the reason for a traffic stop does not have to be any serious crime. The police can make a traffic stop even for the most minor traffic violations.
During a traffic stop for a vehicle violation, the officer may develop reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired. A traffic stop can escalate into a drunk driving arrest if the officer has probable cause to believe the driver is under the influence. If you end up under arrest for impaired driving in Oakland or the East Bay, call a California DUI lawyer as soon as you can so you can keep your license.
What Police Are Looking for in a Drunk Driving Traffic Stop
Police officers, sheriff's deputies, and California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers are trained in DUI detection. Officers can go through a weekend training known as DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST). The 16-hour classroom course includes instruction in Detection as a Three-Phase Process:
- Vehicle in Motion
- Personal Contact
- Pre-Arrest Screening
The Vehicle in Motion phase of the DWI detection process is where the officer observes the vehicle in operation, determines whether or not to pull the vehicle over, and observes the stopping sequence. This is where the officer makes the decision to stop the vehicle on suspicion of drunk driving or for some other traffic violations.
Why Do Police Stop Drivers?
The police decide to pull over a vehicle based on the vehicle, the driver, or the way the driver is operating the vehicle, including:
- Moving violations
- Equipment violations
- Expired registration
- Unusual driving
Moving violations are traffic violations and some of the most common reasons that police make a traffic stop. These violations do not necessarily indicate impairment but could simply result in a ticket or infraction. Some of the most common moving violations in California include:
- Running a red light
- Rolling through a stop sign
- Failure to use a turn signal
- Texting while driving
Equipment violations are another reason police officers use to justify a traffic stop. These are often minor violations or infractions that the driver may not even be aware of. Common vehicle code infractions include:
- Expired vehicle registration
- Window tinting
- Auto equipment needing repair
- Broken tail lights
Unusual Driving Actions
Impaired drivers may be operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner because alcohol impairs a driver's physical and mental abilities. Some unusual driving actions that may indicate possible impairment include:
- Weaving within a lane
- Crossing over the centerline
- Driving slower than normal speed
- Hitting a curb or driving over the shoulder
- Driving at night without headlights on
NHTSA 24 Cues of Impaired Driving
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has identified 24 cues that are associated with a high probability that the driver is impaired. According to the NHTSA's Visual Detection of DWI Motorists, the 24 driving cue include:
Problems Maintaining Proper Lane Position
- Weaving across lane lines
- Straddling a lane line
- Turning with a wide radius
- Almost striking a vehicle or other object
Speed and Braking Problems
- Stopping problems (too far, too short, or too jerky)
- Accelerating or decelerating for no apparent reason
- Varying speed
- Slow speed (10+ mph under the limit)
- Driving in opposing lanes or the wrong way on one-way
- Slow response to traffic signals
- Slow or failure to respond to officer's signals
- Stopping in a lane for no apparent reason
- Driving without headlights at night
- Failure to signal or signal inconsistent with action
- Following too closely
- Improper or unsafe lane change
- Illegal or improper turn (too fast, jerky, sharp, etc.)
- Driving on other than the designated roadway
- Stopping inappropriately in response to an officer
- Inappropriate or unusual behavior (throwing, arguing, etc.)
- Appearing to be impaired
In many cases, drivers who are pulled over on suspicion of a DUI have a combination of driving clues. The police officers may note the driving clues on the arrest report and indicate it was the basis for making a traffic stop.
Some of these clues seem arbitrary, such as "appearing to be impaired." What does a police officer mean if they say the driver appeared to be impaired? There should be specifics to justify a traffic stop, not just a vague claim of apparent impairment. According to the NHTSA, appearing to be impaired can include the following indicators:
- Gripping the steering wheel tightly
- Driving with one's face close to the windshield
- Slouching in the seat
- Staring straight ahead with eyes fixed
Challenging Basis for the Traffic Stop
Even if a driver is showing some of these indicators of possible impairment, there are other reasons for these clues other than alcohol or drugs. Some drivers may be distracted, looking down at their phone or the radio and not paying attention to the road. A drowsy driver who needs sleep can also appear to drive similarly to an impaired driver.
If you are arrested for drunk driving, the police need to have probable cause. Unfortunately for some drivers in Oakland and the East Bay, officers may be stopping drivers without justification. Talk to your East Bay DUI defense attorney after a DUI arrest to understand your rights and legal defense strategies.
Experienced East Bay DUI Defense Lawyer
Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of East Bay DUI defense experience and understands how much is at stake after a DUI arrest. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success to avoid a conviction. If you are facing DUI charges anywhere in Oakland, Alameda County, or Contra Costa County, contact Lynn Gorelick.