Officers look for signs of intoxication anytime they interact with a driver. This can be under many circumstances:
- You were stopped as part of a routine DUI roadblock
- You were stopped for speeding or another violation, without suspicion of DUI
- The officer noticed driving patterns that sometimes indicate intoxication, and pulled you over specifically to check for DUI
- You were involved in an accident
Whether or not the officer suspected DUI when they first pulled you over, if you show signs that you may be intoxicated, they will become suspicious. But whether someone “looks” intoxicated is a subjective judgment call. That’s why officers are trained to look for specific signs, and to try to get you to admit to being intoxicated.
15 Signs of Intoxication
A number of the signs officers look for come directly from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has collected “cues” that have a high rate of success in predicting drunkenness. These are:
- Difficulty with the keys or the vehicle’s controls
- Difficulty exiting the vehicle if asked to do so
- Fumbling with driver’s license or registration
- Repeating questions or comments
- Swaying while walking or standing still, unsteady, or balance problems
- Leaning on the vehicle or another object to stay standing
- Slurred speech
- Slow to respond to questions or prompts
- Providing incorrect information or changing answers
- Odor of alcoholic beverages on the driver
- Flushed face
- Red or bloodshot eyes, or watery/glassy eyes
- Aggressive attitude or other inappropriate attitude, such as hitting on the officer
- Soiled or disheveled clothing
- Inability to follow directions
None of these signs prove that you’re intoxicated, but they give officers “reasonable suspicion.” At this point they will likely treat you as a potential DUI and try to verify that you’ve been drinking or taking drugs. They can do this by inspecting your vehicle or asking you questions, hoping you will incriminate yourself.
Looking in Your Vehicle
One obvious way police can tell if you’re drinking is by spotting a container of alcohol in the car. During a traffic stop, police are not allowed to search your vehicle unless you give them permission. But they don’t need your permission to visually look through the windows or open door as they talk to you. They look for:
- Empty containers, like beer cans, on the floor
- An open container of alcohol anywhere in the vehicle
- Signs of drug use or drug paraphernalia
- Signs of another crime
Note that any open alcohol container in your vehicle is illegal, with or without a DUI charge. If police see an open container they can immediately arrest and charge you. A sealed, never-opened bottle of alcohol is legal in a car, but may further make them suspicious of DUI.
If you are arrested, officers will then be able to search your car even without your consent.
Asking You to Admit You’re Guilty
Also during a traffic stop, officers will ask you if you’ve been drinking—repeatedly. They will also find ways to get you to admit to it indirectly. For example, they may ask where you’re coming from, hoping you’ll say a bar or party. Or they may try to trick you, by asking, “How many drinks did you say you’ve had tonight?”
Remember that you are not required to admit your guilt, even if you have been drinking. At the same time, lying does not help your case—at this point, it’s likely you will be arrested for DUI and lying will make you look even guiltier.
The best approach is to be cooperative, but to decline to answer questions about drinking. It’s acceptable to simply say “I’d rather not answer any questions.”
If You Look Intoxicated
Everything above can happen in as little as sixty seconds. Officers will make a quick judgment as to whether they think you’ve been drinking. They may then ask you to perform field sobriety tests or take a breath test. Most likely they will arrest you for DUI. You cannot prevent the arrest, but you can fight the charge—and potentially win.
The best way to do that is with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer. Our site exists to connect you with some of the top DUI lawyers in the area. We will match you with a lawyer who has the right experience for your case, and who will give you a free consultation. Just fill out the form to the right and get your free consultation today.