Criminal Law

DWI Charges | Traffic Cues for Probable Cause

DWI charges are not routine; many people are stoppdwi charges in arkansased by police during their daily commutes, and few of those stops result in DWI charges. Some of these stops result in simply a warning and others may result in some minor traffic violation ticket. However, in cases where it is alleged that the driver has been operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, the probable cause for the stop becomes very important. 

In a case where DWI charges are in play, there are three basic stages where the officer can detect cues and signs of impairment. First is the visual detection of impaired motorists, second is the divided attention phase, and third is the testing phase. Here we are going to discuss the first stage: The observations of an officer when you are actively driving the vehicle.

NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) sets the standards for investigating DWI charges.  NHTSA performs validation studies to determine what possible clues give rise to the probability that a person is driving under the influence.  NHTSA has developed a list of 24 driving cues, which are broken down into four categories: 1. Problems in maintaining proper lane position, 2. Speed and braking problems, 3. Vigilance problems, 4. Judgment problems.

First, we will address problems in maintaining proper lane position. The following are cues listed by NHTSA:

  • Weaving
  • Weaving across lane lines
  • Straddling a lane line
  • Swerving
  • Turning with a wide radius
  • Drifting
  • Almost Striking a vehicle or other object

You will note that actually striking a vehicle or other object is not a cue, only “almost” striking the vehicle or object is recognized as a cue. Therefore, when a person is involved in a vehicle accident, the mere fact that an accident occurred is not a cue to support DWI charges. 

Also, one of the fastest ways to get pulled over for suspicion of DWI in Arkansas is turning with a wide radius.  This is when you are making a turn and go outside of your lane and into another lane to complete a turn. The NHTSA guidelines specifically instruct officers to look for this cue and to stop the driver when the officer observes this behavior.

Second, speed and braking problems

  • Stopping problems (too far, too short, or too jerky)
  • Accelerating or decelerating for no apparent reason
  • Varying speed
  • Slow speed (10+ mph under limit)

NHTSA places a lot of weight on the driver not being able to maintain a constant speed.  If you are driving and not using cruise control, it can be difficult to maintain a constant speed if you are impaired. Furthermore, individuals who are driving at an excessively slow speed raise an officer’s suspicion because people tend to slow down when they are impaired to compensate for slower response times. 

Third, vigilance problems

  • Driving in opposing lanes or wrong way on one-way
  • Slow or failure to respond to officer’s signals
  • Stopping in lane for no apparent reason
  • Driving without headlights on at night
  • Failure to signal or signal inconsistent with action

Vigilance deals with a driver’s ability to know what is going on around them and act accordingly.  For example, forgetting to do simple things when driving, such as not turning on your headlights when it is appropriate to do so, or changing lanes without using your blinker, or even using your blinkers improperly. Another cue for officers is failure to respond to their emergency lights during a stop. If an officer has to follow you for a significant distance with their lights on or if they have to use their siren to get your attention, these are cues to the officer that your vigilance may be impaired by alcohol.

Fourth, Judgment problems

  • Following too closely
  • Improper or unsafe lane change
  • Illegal or improper turn (too fast, jerky, sharp, ect.)
  • Driving on other than the designated roadway
  • Stopping inappropriately in response to officer
  • Inappropriate or unusual behavior (throwing, arguing, ect.)
  • Appearing to be impaired

Impaired judgment from alcohol can cause many driving mistakes such as not being able to maintain a proper distance from surrounding vehicles or even making sudden or jerky movements while driving. Impaired judgment cues can even extend to driving in places not designated as a roadway, such as driving on the shoulder of the road or driving in the median or turn lane.

As you can see, many minor traffic violations can result in a traffic stop. However, some of those can also serve as a cue to an officer that you are driving under the influence of alcohol on an Arkansas roadway and result in DWI charges.  You should note, of all the possible cues we have discussed, one of the most common driving violations is not a cue.  Simply speeding, without any of the other listed actions, is not a cue for a DWI in Arkansas.  Therefore, if you are pulled over for speeding and nothing more and can pull over in a safe and timely manner, the officer has not observed any driving that will support a conviction for DWI charges in Arkansas, and must rely on their contact with you to make determinations about your possible impairment.  In the next several blog post within this series, we will address many of the post-stop cues, as well as addressing the three most used standardized field sobriety tests in an Arkansas DWI investigation.

As always, if you or someone you know has been arrested for DWI charges or DUI charges in Arkansas, contact our office for a consultation. We have offices in North Little Rock, Clarksville, Cabot, and Bryant.

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