Signs of Impaired Driving

OVI Questions & Answers

  1. What are police trained to look for when on OVI (drunk driving) enforcement?
  2. Can you give specific examples of the driving "signs of impairment?"
  3. What signs of impairment will the officer be looking for if I am stopped for a suspected drunk driving offense?
  4. If I am ordered to get out of the car, should I assume that I will be arrested?

1. What are police trained to look for when on OVI (drunk driving) enforcement?

An officer on OVI enforcement is trained to look for various signs of drunk driving, broken down into three phases:

The "vehicle in motion" phase includes signs of impairment exhibited while driving. The second phase involves signs of impairment upon the initial "personal contact" with driver. Lastly, the "pre-arrest screening" phase encompasses standardized field sobriety testing and preliminary breath testing.

2. Can you give specific examples of the driving "signs of impairment?"

During the "vehicle in motion" phase, the officer is looking for signs such as reckless driving, weaving, going left of center, driving too slow, breaking erratically, stopping for no apparent reason and just about any other traffic violation. In addition, an automobile accident during the late night, early morning hours will always raise suspicion of impairment.

3. What signs of impairment will the officer be looking for if I am stopped for a suspected drunk driving offense?

Once pulled over, the officer will begin to look for clues based upon the senses of sight, hearing and smell.

If bloodshot eyes, soiled clothing, fumbling fingers, alcohol containers, or any other unusual actions are observed, the suspicion of drunk driving will be heightened. The suspicion will be further heightened by slurred speech, admission to drinking, inconsistent responses and unusual statements. Finally, the odor of alcoholic beverages, cover-up odors, and any other unusual odors will raise suspicion.

During questioning, the officer may have you try to answer a question while trying to perform a physical task. For example, while you are looking for your insurance card, the officer may ask you your address. If you have to stop looking for your insurance card in order to tell the officer your address that will be considered a sign of impairment.

4. If I am ordered to get out of the car, should I assume that I will be arrested?

No. A proper "exit of the vehicle" and a good performance on field sobriety tests may avoid an arrest. As you are getting out of the car, the officer will be watching for difficulty in opening the car door, using the door for balance, leaning against the vehicle and swaying or staggering.