Impaired driving is a serious problem in the United States, one that injures and kills thousands of people each year. DUI and DWI offenses include drunk driving and drugged driving. There are ways you can spot a drunk driver and things you can do to report drunk driving to the authorities. Reporting an impaired driver can help prevent a drunk driving accident and save lives.
7 Things to Do If You Suspect Someone is Drunk Driving
- Slow down to put more space between your vehicle and the other vehicle.
- Pull over to a safe location.
- Call 911.
- Be prepared to describe the vehicle and location.
- Note details about the vehicle.
- Describe the driving behaviors.
- Never attempt to stop an impaired driver.
In most cases, the 911 operator will ask for your name and telephone number. If you do not want to provide your name, you may ask the 911 operator if you can report a suspected intoxicated driver anonymously. Even though you may be required to provide your name, you could be saving someone’s life by preventing a drunk driving accident. It is important to know how to report drunk driving should the need arise.
Driving Behaviors Associated with DUI and DWI
How do you spot a drunk driver? Until a police officer conducts a field sobriety test or BAC test, it is impossible to know if a driver is impaired. However, there are telltale signs that indicate a driver might be impaired by drugs or alcohol. If a police officer witnesses certain behaviors, they may pull the driver over to investigate the matter.
Understanding the signs that could indicate a driver is intoxicated can help identify a potentially dangerous driver. When you call 911, the operator will likely ask you to describe the driving behaviors you have witnessed. Describe the driving behaviors accurately in order to give the officer a reason to pull over the driver.
When a driver is buzzed or drunk, they often have difficulty staying in their lane and maintaining the proper speed. Intoxicated drivers also have trouble paying attention to their surroundings and noticing changes in driving conditions. An impaired driver has a hard time accurately judging the proximity of objects and other vehicles on the road.
Common signs of impaired driving include:
- Weaving or swerving from one side of the road to the other
- Crossing the center line repeatedly
- Running off the side of the road repeatedly
- Using an unusually wide radius to turn
- Rapidly accelerating
- Driving too slowly for the conditions or driving much slower than the posted speed limit
- Driving aggressively
- Failing to turn on headlights at night
- Sudden or illegal turns
- Near misses or repeatedly sideswiping objects
- Leaning forward and driving with the face close to the windshield
- Driving in the middle of the road
- Responding slowly to traffic signals
- Sitting at stop signs much longer than necessary
- Jerky or sharp turns
This is not a complete list of drunk driving signs. Furthermore, the above signs may not always indicate a driver is intoxicated. However, strange driving behaviors such as those listed above often indicate the driver may be drunk.
If you observe any of the above driving behaviors, it is wise to assume the driver may be intoxicated. Even if you decide not to report a suspicious driver, you should take steps to avoid a potential DUI accident. As mentioned above, slow down and put additional distance between your vehicle and the other vehicle. If possible, take a different route to avoid following the driver. You never know when a driver may cause a drunk driving accident.
Report Drunk Driving Safely
It’s important to stay safe when reporting a drunk driver. First, you should slow down to put more distance between your vehicle and the other vehicle. Drivers who have had too much to drink are unpredictable. They could slam on brakes without warning, swerve into oncoming traffic, or suddenly turn off the main road. You need additional time to avoid a collision if necessary, so drop back to a safe distance from the vehicle.
If you have a passenger in the vehicle, the passenger can note the make, model, and color of the vehicle. The license tag and any identifying information, such as bumper stickers or dents can also be extremely helpful when you call to report the drunk driver. In addition, the 911 operator will need to know the location of the driver. You should try to be as specific as possible, providing the name of the road, highway, or interstate where you observed the vehicle. If you are on the interstate, the number of the nearest mile marker is extremely helpful.
The safest option is to pull over to call 911 or allow a passenger to call 911. Following the driver could be dangerous and you should never place yourself or anyone else in harm’s way to report a suspected DUI driver. Also, never attempt to stop a person who is driving while drunk. Attempting to pull over a suspected drunk driver can be extremely dangerous.
Can Drunk Driving Be Stopped?
Law enforcement officers work diligently to stop drunk drivers from endangering themselves and others on the road. If you call 911 to report a drunk driver, the 911 operator will notify the police department with jurisdiction over the area where the driver was spotted. The law enforcement officer could be a local police department, county law enforcement agency, or the state police. Once police officers have the information you provide, they may follow the vehicle to observe the driving behaviors firsthand.
How Does an Officer Determine if the Driver is Drunk?
If a police officer determines he has probable cause for making a drunk driving stop, he will pull over the driver to investigate. Some law enforcement officials conduct sobriety checkpoints to stop drunk driving, especially during holiday weekends. During a typical DUI stop, the officer talks to the driver and observes the driver’s physical appearance and behavior. The officer may also note whether or not there is a strong odor of alcohol emitting from the vehicle or the driver.
The officer will watch for signs of intoxication. Some of the signs that indicate a person may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs include:
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty operating vehicle controls, such as lights, window controls, door handles, etc.
- Repeating comments and questions
- Confusion and inattentiveness
- Provides incorrect information
- Problems with balance, including leaning on the vehicle, swaying, and general unsteadiness
- Fumbling to retrieve insurance information, driver’s license, and registration
- Difficulty exiting the vehicle
- The odor of alcohol on the person or coming from within the vehicle
- Overly animated, boisterous, or loud
- Boasting or bravado
- Sudden or extreme change in behavior
- Rambling train of thought
- Glassy, bloodshot, or watery eyes
If the officer smells alcohol on the driver’s breath, or a visual inspection of the driver indicates that the driver may be inebriated, the officer may decide that further investigation is required.
Administering Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
What’s the drunk driving limit?
The legal limit for drunk driving in most states is .08 BAC limit (in Utah, the limit is .05 BAC). If the driver’s blood alcohol content is above the legal limit, the officer arrests the driver for driving under the influence. However, many states also have drunk driving laws making driving while impaired a crime. Therefore, a driver may be arrested for impaired driving even though the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is below the legal limit.
Law enforcement officers may administer a portable breath test at a DUI stop to test if the driver is above the legal BAC limit. Some states have implied consent laws that require drivers to submit to a breathalyzer test if stopped for suspicion of drunk driving. A driver has the right to refuse a breath test, but the driver would likely lose his or her driver’s license if the state has implied consent laws.
A law enforcement officer also performs a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) to determine if a driver is impaired. The SFST is actually three tests developed in the 1970s to determine if a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely is impaired. The tests are validated by science and considered permissible evidence of a driver’s impairment by alcohol or drugs.
The three tests used in DUI and DWI stops are:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
- Walk-and-Turn Test
- One-Leg Stand Test
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test measures the involuntary jerking of the eye that naturally occurs when the person moves his or her eyes from side to side. When a person is impaired by alcohol, the jerking increases and the person may have trouble following an object passed in front of the eyes.
The officer holds a pen, light, or another object in front of the driver and moves it from side to side to observe three distinctive signs of intoxication. When a driver exhibits four or more indicators the officer is looking for during the HGN test after examining both eyes, the person is likely to have a BAC limit of .08 or greater.
The walk-and-turn test is a familiar roadside sobriety test used by officers. The subject is required to listen to specific instructions and follow those instructions. The officer directs the driver to take exactly nine steps in a straight line while touching heel-to-toe. The driver must then turn on one foot and repeat the sequence in the opposite direction. An officer is watching to determine if the driver fails to follow instructions, places arms out to sides for balance, stumbles, or displays other indications that the person cannot maintain his or her balance.
One-Leg Stand Test
The one-leg stand test also measures a driver’s ability to balance and follow simple instructions. The police officer directs the driver to stand with one foot six inches above the ground for 30 seconds. The driver must also count out loud to mark the 30 seconds. Indicators of impairment include the driver using his or her arms to balance, swaying while balancing, putting the foot down, or hopping to maintain balance. Two or more indicators during the performance of the one-leg stand test may mean the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit.
While there are cases in which health conditions or medications could cause a driver to fail a test when he or she is not impaired, the SFST is the method used during DUI stops to help officers decide whether to arrest the person for drunken driving.
Is Drunk Driving a Criminal Offense?
Driving with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit is against the law. In addition, driving while impaired is also a crime in most states. Drivers who operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs can face a variety of criminal charges, including misdemeanors and felonies. When the drunk driving incident involves a DUI accident, other criminal charges may apply.
A drunk driving conviction can carry a variety of penalties. Depending on the DUI offense, the driver may be sentenced to days in jail, loss of driving privileges, mandatory use of an ignition interlock device, probation, and an alcohol abuse program. Also, the driver may face personal liability for any damages or losses incurred because of a drunk driving accident.
What Should You Do If You Are in a Drunk Driving Accident?
If a drunk driver causes a car crash, the steps you take following the accident are similar to the steps you would take after any traffic accident.
Steps to Take Immediately After a Drunk Driving Crash
- Call 911 for emergency assistance. Tell the dispatcher your location and any known injuries.
- Do not attempt to confront a drunk driver. Make mental notes about the driver’s behavior so that you can report this to the police officer.
- If anyone witnessed the crash, get the contact information for the eyewitness.
- Taking pictures or a video of the accident scene is usually a good idea. However, do not place yourself or anyone else in harm’s way to take photographs of an accident scene.
- Do not admit fault or discuss the cause of the crash with anyone other than the police officer.
- Explain what happened before and after the traffic crash to the police officer. If you noticed strange driving behaviors or other signs of intoxication, explain this to the officer.
Seek Medical Treatment After DUI Traffic Accidents
You need to see a doctor as soon as possible after a drunk driving collision. If you believe you are injured, you should go to the emergency room. Do not dismiss going to the hospital in an ambulance if you feel ill or are in pain. You could have suffered a serious injury that may not be immediately apparent after the crash. Many accident victims are not aware they are injured because the shock and trauma of the crash can mask injury symptoms.
It is always a good idea to have a complete physical after a car crash. Delays in medical treatment after an accident can hurt your ability to seek compensation from the intoxicated driver. Insurance companies like to use delays in medical treatment as a reason to deny valid injury claims. If the insurance company denies your claim, you should seek immediate legal counsel from an experienced DUI accident lawyer.
As you receive medical treatment for your injuries, you need to document your care and recovery. You should retain copies of all documents related to the medical care you receive related to the DUI crash. Also, you need to follow your doctor’s instructions for your health and to increase your chance of recovering compensation for injuries caused by an alcohol-impaired driver.
If you believe you are not receiving proper medical care, you may want to seek a second opinion. Injuries from a DUI accident can cause life-threatening conditions and permanent impairments. If you continue to experience unexplained symptoms, seek medical advice from a trusted physician.
Other Steps to Take After an Accident Caused by an Impaired Driver
Here are some additional steps and guidelines for dealing with an injury claim related to a drunk driving car accident:
- Do not discuss the accident online and avoid using social media until after you speak with a DUI accident lawyer. What you post online may be accessed by defense attorneys or the insurance provider for the other driver. An innocent post could be misconstrued and used against you during your personal injury case.
- Avoid discussing the details of the accident, your injuries, and your recovery with anyone other than immediate family, physicians, and personal injury attorney.
- Do not provide a written or recorded statement to the insurance company or other party representing the drunk driver without consulting with an attorney.
- Do not sign a medical release or authorization for the insurance adjuster for the other driver. Your attorney provides the necessary medical documents to the other party.
- Tell your DUI accident attorney about any previous accidents or injuries.
- Document your expenses and losses related to the crash and your injuries. Your attorney’s office will assist you in compiling evidence to prove damages; however, you can help by keeping track of expenses and loss of income.
- Keep a detailed accounting of how the injuries impact your daily life. What is your daily pain level? What activities are you unable to perform because of the injury? How many days have you missed from work? Was it necessary to hire someone to help with household chores? Did you require personal assistance to care for yourself?
Can You Sue for Drunk Driving Accidents?
Yes, you can sue the driver who caused the accident for punitive damages and to recover compensation for your injuries. However, drunk driving cases are not easier to win because the driver was charged with a crime. You are still required to prove that the driver caused the crash to recover compensation for your injuries. For instance, did the other driver swerve into your lane, turn in front of you, or rear-end your vehicle?
The fact that the driver was intoxicated is evidence of negligence, but it is not the only evidence required to prove fault in an alcohol-impaired driving accident. Working with an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer is advised, especially if the insurance company for the drunk driver denies liability.
Your attorney will work to identify fault and obtain evidence to prove liability. Some of the steps an attorney may take when preparing a personal injury claim include:
- Gather physical evidence from the accident scene, including photographs and videos.
- Search for videos of the accident taken from traffic cameras, video surveillance cameras, etc.
- Retain an expert to inspect the damage to the vehicles and reconstruct how the accident occurred.
- Review medical records and discuss injuries with your physician.
- Interview and depose eyewitnesses and the other driver.
- Review the police report or accident report, including talking to the police officer.
- Request copies of any criminal charges, the results of a BAC test, previous driving record, and follow the progress of the drunk driving charges against the driver.
- Consult with financial and economic experts to determine the value of future damages.
- Obtain financial records to determine your loss of income because of the accident.
Will Insurance Cover Drunk Driving Accidents?
Yes, insurance can cover drunk driving accidents, but the evidence of fault must be established. As mentioned above, in order to receive compensation from the insurance company for the intoxicated driver, you must prove fault and liability. The procedure for proving negligence and fault is typically the same for drunk driving accidents as it is for other traffic accidents. Even though a driver was driving while intoxicated, that fact does not release the insurance company from liability if the driver causes a car crash.
Once you prove the driver was responsible for causing the crash, you may be entitled to receive compensation for damages including:
- The cost of medical treatment and care, including emergency room visits, surgeries, hospital stays, physicians’ bills, physical therapy, medications, occupational therapy, and medical equipment. You may also receive compensation for future medical care.
- The cost of personal care, including assistance in caring for yourself or performing household chores.
- Property damage, including the cost to repair the damage to your vehicle or replace your vehicle if the collision totaled the vehicle.
- Loss of income, including lost wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, and other forms of compensation. You may also receive compensation for a loss of earning potential and future lost wages.
- Physical suffering and pain.
- Emotional and mental anguish, including PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
- Scarring, disfigurement, and permanent impairments and disabilities.
The amount of compensation you receive for a motor vehicle accident claim involving an impaired driver depends on numerous factors. For instance, the type and severity of your injury impact the value of your claim, as does the length of your recovery. Your out-of-pocket expenses and financial losses also affect the amount of compensation you may receive.
An experienced DUI accident attorney uses the evidence and all relevant facts to maximize the amount of compensation you may receive for your claim. If the at-fault driver’s insurance coverage does not cover all damages, your attorney may also file a claim against your insurance coverage if you have underinsured motorist coverage. Filing an underinsured motorist coverage claim is often necessary when the other driver has minimum insurance coverage.
Drunk Driving Facts
Alcohol-impaired accidents can cause serious injuries and death. Drivers who choose to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol put everyone in danger. Below are some drunk driving facts that demonstrate the danger of driving while impaired.
- 10,874 people died in alcohol-impaired driving accidents during 2017. DUI accidents accounted for 29 percent of all traffic fatalities for the year.
- One person dies in a DUI crash approximately every 28 minutes.
- During 2010, the estimated cost of accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers or occupants totaled $44 billion.
- 1,147 children (14 years of age or younger) died in DUI crashes during 2017.
- More alcohol-impaired crashes occurred during July, August, and September than any other time during the year.
- Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, DUI crashes injure about 25,000 people.
Drunk driving deaths are preventable. Educating the public about the dangers of driving while impaired is one way to help reduce the number of people who are injured and killed each year by reckless individuals who drive after drinking.
How is Drunk Driving Dangerous?
Many people believe they are safe drivers, even after consuming alcohol. However, a small amount of alcohol can impair driving abilities. According to information from the CDC, a BAC of .02 can cause a decline in visual functions and the ability to perform two tasks at the same time. As a person’s blood alcohol concentration increases, the impairments become worse.
At a BAC of .05, a person’s coordination and ability to track movement decreases. The driver has difficulty steering and cannot react to emergency driving situations as quickly. Once the driver’s BAC reaches the legal limit of .08, the driver can experience short-term memory loss, have impaired perception, trouble concentrating, trouble controlling the speed of the vehicle, and difficulty processing information. Once an individual’s blood alcohol concentration exceeds the legal limit, the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle safely is severely impaired.
In the hands of an impaired driver, a vehicle can become a deadly weapon. An inebriated driver does not need to be operating a large commercial truck to cause catastrophic damage in a crash. A buzzed motorcycle rider could cause another person to suffer serious injuries or cause a fatality in a DUI crash. Anyone who gets behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking has the potential for taking another life.
Drunk driving accidents injure and kill thousands of people each year. However, there are steps that everyone can take to prevent drunk driving.
How Can Drunk Driving Be Prevented?
Drinking and driving is preventable because it is a choice, plain and simple. People choose whether or not to drive after consuming alcohol. Some of the steps you can take to reduce the risk of an alcohol-impaired car crash include:
- Designate a person who will not drink so that he or she can drive sober for the group.
- Arrange for safe rides home from parties, concerts, bars, and other places where you might consume alcohol.
- Use Uber, Lyft, taxi cabs, buses, and other forms of public transportation after consuming alcohol.
- If you are hosting a party, hire an experienced bartender who has the training to recognize when someone is drunk.
- Arrange for sober drivers to take guests home who have had too much to drink.
- Stop serving alcohol at gatherings a couple of hours before the end of the event. Always have plenty of food available during gatherings and consider serving coffee with desserts instead of alcohol.
- Do not allow friends or family members to drive a vehicle while intoxicated.
- Always wear your seatbelt when riding in a vehicle. Seat belts reduce the risk of injury and death in traffic accidents.
- Avoid driving late at night or when bars and restaurants will be closing, especially on weekends and holidays.
- For maximum road safety, avoid driving during long holiday weekends, especially in the evenings.
- If you see an intoxicated driver, slow down and call 911 to report the incident.
Of course, the best way to avoid a DUI accident is not to drink and drive!
Contact an Experienced DUI Accident Lawyer for a Free Case Review
If an alcohol-impaired driver injures you, you might be entitled to recover compensation for your injuries. A drunk driving accident attorney can assist you in filing an injury claim. Call Acadia Law Group at 1-800-653-4600 or use our online chat feature to obtain more information and request a free consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers.