As you drive, you may at some point notice flashing lights in your rearview mirror. If you were speeding or failed to come to a complete stop at that last stop sign, you may know why the officer decided to pull you over.
However, you may not know what you did to gain the officer’s attention. You may not think you violated any traffic laws, so why is he or she pulling you over? Surely, the officer has to have a reason to pull you over and can’t do so “just because,” especially if you end up under suspicion for drunk driving.
Police need reasonable suspicion to pull you over
With the exception of controversial DWI checkpoints, police do need to have a reason to pull you over. In fact, an officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” that you have committed a crime in order to initiate a traffic stop. He or she can detain you to conduct a limited investigation but only for a short time. Below are some of the driving behaviors that could provide an officer with reasonable suspicion:
- If you make an illegal turn
- If you drive well under the speed limit
- If you brake frequently
- If you stop in the middle of the road without an apparent reason to do so
- If your vehicle moves erratically
- If your vehicle straddles the center line
- If your vehicle drifts from one lane into another
- If your vehicle comes close to striking objects or other vehicles
Of course, other traffic violations, such as running a stop sign, could also create reasonable suspicion. The point is that the officer cannot pull you over without the good faith belief that you committed a crime or violated a traffic law. If he or she then suspects you of drunk driving, it will take more than just a reasonable suspicion to arrest you.
The officer must then establish probable cause, which is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion. It makes sense to use this higher threshold since your freedom is at stake. For this reason, he or she may ask you to participate in field sobriety tests and/or a roadside breath test. You may know you can challenge those results, but you can also challenge the traffic stop itself. If the officer did not have reason to pull you over, it could substantially affect the outcome of your case.