How do police decide who to stop for drunk driving in Charlotte?

Police officers in Mecklenburg County and North Carolina Highway Patrol are trained to look for numerous visual clues and driver behavior patterns when deciding whether to make an investigative stop of a drunk driving suspect. These visual clues, identified by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study on impaired drivers, help officers determine if there is enough reasonable suspicion to justify pulling you over for DWI.

Outside of DUI checkpoints, police must have reasonable suspicion to legally stop you for drunk driving. 

How Police Determine Reasonable Suspicion for a DWI Stop

The visual clues identified by the NHTSA fall into one of the following four categories:

  1. Problems Maintaining Proper Lane Position
  2. Speeding and Braking Problems
  3. Vigilance Problems
  4. Judgment Problems

Visual clues used to identify Problems Maintaining Proper Lane Position include:

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

Visual clues used to identify Speeding and Braking Problems include:

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

Visual clues used to identify Vigilance Problems include:

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

Visual clues used to identify Judgment Problems include:

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

If an officer observed you exhibiting any of these behaviors, he may be legally justified in stopping you for drunk driving, but not always. For example, if you make an illegal turn, you have likely violated the law and an officer is likely justified in stopping you on that fact alone. On the other hand, if you were weaving within your own lane only, an officer is not likely going to be justified in stopping you. When a DWI stop is based on the driver weaving within a lane, North Carolina law generally requires weaving within a lane plus some other fact in order for an officer to make a stop.

Find Out if Your Charlotte DWI Could be Dropped

If an officer did not have a legal justification for pulling you over, it may be possible to have your drunk driving charge dismissed based on that lack of reasonable suspicion. If you have been arrested for DWI in the Charlotte metro area, contact our Mecklenburg County DWI attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC for a free consultation to evaluate your case and assist in making this determination.