If you are pulled over for reasonable suspicion that you are driving under the influence of alcohol, the police officer will be looking for specific signs that will tell him that you are indeed intoxicated. For example, the officer will ask you questions to determine if your speech is slurred. He will also notice how well you move by noting gross and fine motor movements as you hand him your license and registration and as you pull the window up or down. Other signs for which he will be watching include open bottles of alcohol in the vehicle and the smell of alcohol or drugs in the vehicle or on your breath. He may even shine a flashlight into your eyes to see how well they focus, whether they are bloodshot and how dilated or constricted the pupils are. In most cases, any abnormal findings during this preliminary investigation, which only takes a few brief moments for the officer to perform, will be noted in his report.
Of course, even before you are stopped, the police officer will have noted other signs that you could have been driving under the influence of alcohol. For example, he or she may have noted whether you were swerving or whether you had difficulty staying in your lane. Other signs that you may be driving while intoxicated include failing to obey traffic laws and driving offensively.
Keep in mind that whether or not you think you are drunk or feel intoxicated is not the question. You may feel that none of your mental or verbal skills have changed at all. However, in many states, only a small amount of alcohol can render you incapacitated for driving and may leave your blood alcohol level raised significantly enough to lead to a DUI.
As you can imagine, the reason for any of these suspicious activities may not be related merely to drunk driving. In fact, there are many physical and mental reasons as to why you could have been driving erratically or why you appeared intoxicated when the officer looked at and talked to you. Consider some of these reasons for erratic driving that are unrelated to blood alcohol level.
- Using buttons or dials on your dashboard. This could include changing the radio station or CD, changing the thermostat or using in-car entertainment or GPS systems.
- Using your cell phone or smart phone. This is definitely not a safe activity and is one that is not allowed in many states. In fact, numerous states list texting while driving as a fineable offense, and others only allow drivers to use hands-free devices for talking on the phone while driving. Consider pulling over before using your smart phone in the car.
- Looking away from the road while driving. Glancing down for a moment, taking your hands off the wheel or looking at a passenger can cause you to swerve from your lane or accidentally slow down or speed up.
- Difficulty seeing the road. You may have more problems seeing the road as you grow older, especially during night driving. Glare from the sun or rain as well as whiteouts from fog or snow can impair your driving ability.
- Simple negligence. Poor concentration due to being followed by a police officer
Many police officers know this phenomenon as “black-and-white fever.” This is a psychological scenario in which individuals who know they are being followed by a police officer begin driving erratically because they are paying so much attention to the police car in their side view and rearview mirrors. This breaks the driver’s concentration and can lead to speeding as well as weaving.
Of course, while the majority of these reasons are not good excuses and could certainly end in an accident, they should not lead to a DUI arrest. Depending on the extent of your dangerous driving, you could end up with a charge of reckless driving, especially if you were involved in an accident, but with the help of a good attorney, it should be proven that you were not intoxicated at the time.
Additionally, consider these reasons for your physical and mental signs and symptoms of intoxication when the officer pulls you over.
Epilepsy can cause seizures that may be accompanied by odd behavior, such as dizziness, unresponsiveness and a sense of detachment from what is going on around you. While it can cause you to have your license taken away, it is not cause for a DUI.
• Brain injuries
Brain injuries may occur after blows to the head and can lead to extreme drowsiness, slurred speech and poor hand-eye coordination.
Diabetes with poorly controlled blood sugar or undiagnosed diabetes can lead to ketosis, which has the smell of acetone on the breath as a symptoms. Additionally, low blood sugar can lead to aggressive behavior, dizziness and poor concentration.
• Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s leads to progressive mood and personality changes, including confusion and anger. Those with Alzheimer’s often act disoriented or may mumble.
• Prescription and over-the-counter medications
Numerous medications can cause drowsiness, which can lead to difficulty with driving. In addition, some can cause visual changes and poor response time.
• Gastrointestinal disorders
While it is somewhat unusual, some GI disorders in which digestion is slowed can lead to fermentation in the gut and the smell of alcohol on the breath even if you do not ingest any alcohol.
• Mouthwash or cough syrup use
Many of these over-the-counter products contain alcohol and can lead to odor on the breath.
With the help of a good attorney and possibly with the help of a doctor, you may be able to disprove the officer’s initial findings of intoxication if you are arrested for DUI. Your attorney may suggest using dash cam footage or video footage from the police station holding cell to uphold the case that you were not acting in a way that showed intoxication despite what the arrest report state.