Car & Driver

Know Your DUI Laws and Rights — Just in Case

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It’s Saturday night, you’re driving home from a great dinner at the newest restaurant in town – and the absolute last thing on your mind is your state’s DUI laws. Suddenly, you notice flashing lights in your rearview mirror.

You panic, quickly calculating whether the drinks you had with your meal were enough to put you over the legal limit. Are you being pulled over for a DUI? (That’s driving under the influence, also known as OWI –operating while intoxicated – or DWI – driving while intoxicated.)

Panicking is the last thing you want to do in a situation like this. If you are pulled over by the police and you’ve been drinking – and you might be over the legal alcohol limit – take a deep breath and follow these steps:

1. Slow down and pull over immediately.

Use your turn signal and pull over as soon as you can find a convenient place. Avoid stopping abruptly or making any suspicious movements as you pull over. Keep in mind that the officer pulling you over is already watching for signs you might be over the legal drinking limit.

2. Wait for the officer to approach.

Turn off your engine and roll down your window. Then keep your hands on the steering wheel so the officer can see them. Don’t reach for your wallet or purse to dig out your license. Don’t lean over to find your registration in the glove compartment. Wait to do those things until the officer asks for them. If officers see you moving around as they approach your car, they may think you are reaching for a weapon or hiding illegal items such as drug paraphernalia.

3. Be polite but not conversational.

You should try to say as little as possible to the officer. Don’t ask questions like, “Why was I pulled over?” If the officer asks you if you know why you were pulled over, say no. If the officer asks you specific questions about what you’ve been doing or how much you’ve had to drink, you do not have to answer the questions. You may respectfully state that you would like to remain silent. If you feel you need to, you may also state that you’d like to speak with an attorney.

4. Know when you can say “no.”

You are not required to perform field sobriety tests or portable breathalyzer tests. Even if the officer makes it sound like it’s required for a suspected DUI stop, it’s not. Field sobriety tests are also completely subjective. Taking part in these helps the officers build a case against you. Keep in mind, however, that in many states if you refuse to take a portable breathalyzer test you will automatically have your license suspended — even if you are found not guilty of a DWI or DUI.

6. Contact an attorney as soon as possible.

If you are arrested, most states allow you to contact an attorney before deciding whether to take any tests (legal blood alcohol level or breathalyzer) at the station. Otherwise, once you are released, you should record everything you can remember. Then reach out to an attorney who regularly handles DUI/DWI/OWI cases.

Once the attorney decides to take your case, you will want to be honest and share all the details you can remember. If you are innocent, a seemingly minor detail could help your attorney make your case. If you know you made a mistake, be upfront about it so the attorney can help you understand your rights.

5. Be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Even if you refuse to perform the field sobriety and portable breathalyzer tests, the officer can still arrest you for a DWI or DUI if there is probable cause. If the officer smells alcoholic beverages on your breath, sees an open container of alcohol in your car or notices any common signs of impairment — such as red eyes, slurred speech or a flushed face — that is usually enough to establish probable cause.

Throughout this entire process, remember to remain as calm as possible. Being defensive or uncooperative will only make things worse. Finally, keep in mind that the best way to avoid being pulled over for a DUI/DWI is simple: Never drink and drive.

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