The holidays are here, and while this is the season known for goodwill, joy, and cheer, some may indulge in a little too much cheer. This becomes a problem when drivers decide to get behind the wheel. According to the US Department of Transportation, “over the past 5 years, an average of 300 people died in drunk driving crashes the week between Christmas and New Year.” Studies show that DUI checkpoints have become an increasingly effective tool in preventing drunk driving and reducing alcohol-related accidents. They are becoming more common, but reaching a checkpoint can be intimidating. So let’s take a closer look at what happens at a DUI checkpoint and how to handle it if approach one.
What is a checkpoint?
To know what to expect, you first have to understand what it is. D.U.I checkpoints, or sobriety checkpoints, are areas on streets and highways where law enforcement officers are stationed to test drivers for intoxication. Stopping every single car is a bit unrealistic so these checkpoints operate using a pattern. For instance, they may stop every third or fourth car. Impaired driving is most common on weekends and holidays, which is when many states and counties will set up checkpoints. You can expect to see more D.U.I checkpoints late at night or early in the morning, which is generally when drinkers are most active.
What will officers look for?
If your vehicle is one that law enforcement signals to stop, the officer will ask you to pull over, lower your window, and turn off your vehicle. They will need to see your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. During this interaction, the officer will look for signs of intoxication such as slurred speech, the smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, and an inability to focus. If the officer suspects you of driving under the influence, they will ask you to step out of the car to take some tests.
What is a sobriety test?
A field sobriety test is a test used by police officers when a person is suspected of driving under the influence. The test is given after the police officer has stopped the person to determine whether the person is a risk on the road. According to alcohol.org, field sobriety test will utilize one or more of the following tests:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test
With this test, the officer tracks your ability to follow an object from side-to-side with your eyes. During the test, an officer will ask you to follow a pen or flashlight with just your eyes.
- The Walk-and-Turn Test
During this test, the officer will ask you to walk in a straight line, heel to toe, taking nine steps while counting out loud. After nine steps, you must turn around by pivoting on one foot and walk nine steps back again, eventually ending where you started.
- The One-Leg-Stand Test
With the one-leg-stand test, the officer will ask you to stand on one foot with the other raised about six inches off the ground while also counting out loud by thousands for 30 seconds. You have to keep your arms at your sides and your eyes looking down at your foot.
Along with the three standardized tests, the officer may use other tests to further determine your level of impairment and intoxication. Such as the finger to nose, finger tap test, or the balance test. Other non-standardized tests may include counting or reciting the alphabet backward.
- Breathalyzer test
From the field sobriety tests, the officer will usually have enough information to determine if you are intoxicated or not. To confirm your intoxication level, the officer will likely administer a chemical breath test using a breathalyzer. If your BAC is 0.08 or above, you will likely be arrested on the spot. While you can choose to refuse a breathalyzer test, know that most states have implied consent laws in place. These laws state that by owning a license, you automatically consent to a breath test administered by an officer should that officer suspect you are driving under the influence. By refusing the test, you are breaking implied consent and could suffer more serious penalties.
Although stopping at a DUI checkpoint can seem confusing or intimidating, as long as you haven’t been drinking and follow the officer’s orders, everything should go smoothly. However, if you do make the mistake of drinking and driving, know that Ludlum Law Firm is judgment-free and here for you. Our Sampson County and Duplin County DWI lawyers will fight for your rights and ensure your case results in the best possible outcome. Don’t hesitate to give us a call or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation.