It is illegal in every state to operate a motorized vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. It is also illegal to operate a motorized vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at any level if you are unable to do so safely. But what if law enforcement does not witness the driving erratic driving? Can you still be arrested for DUI?
Recently, on our DUI forum we had a driver who was arrested inside of a store after another driver called the police and reported that they were driving unsafely. The driver wanted to know if they could be convicted of DUI if the police did not see the driving infraction or witness any unsafe driving.
States publicize push for other drivers to report drunk drivers
Many drivers are unaware that they can be arrested for DUI if another driver reports they are driving unsafely and the police stop the reported driver and collect evidence that they are driving under the influence.
For instance, in San Diego, California, there is a new campaign titled “Report Drunk Drivers – Call 911.” California drivers are now encouraged through a media campaign including billboards, signs, and radio and television ads to call 911 if they see a driver who is driving unsafely.
This program is used in conjunction with another program by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) titled “Operation Extra Eyes” campaign, which outlines tips for spotting and reporting unsafe driving.
For example, citizens are asked to watch for a variety of unsafe driving actions which may indicate that another driver is intoxicated. For instance, is the driver weaving or swerving, driving too slowly, failing to proceed if a light turns green, driving aggressively, tailgating or changing multiple lane changes? If so, the state encourages the driver to call 911 and report the unsafe driver.
So, although state laws may vary and law enforcement may use citizen reports in different manners, it is not unusual for the police to be notified about unsafe driving from other drivers and proceed to investigate the complaint, potentially making an arrest if they find evidence that the driver is intoxicated (failed blood alcohol concentration test (BAC) or failed field sobriety test).
Can I be arrested if I am not driving?
Drivers are also surprised to find that they may be arrested for drunk driving even if they are not actually driving a car. The most common cases involve drivers who have fallen asleep on the side of the road or who have parked their car, but a driver may also be arrested if they have left their vehicle to enter a store or their home.
For instance, if you are spotted by another driver driving erratically and you have stopped your car at a convenience store and you are exiting the store to get back in your car when the police arrive on the scene it may not be too difficult for the prosecutor to prove that you had “actual physical control” of the vehicle while you were intoxicated (assuming the police gathered evidence that you were intoxicated).
For instance, if you exited the store with the keys in your hand and the officer asked you to perform a field sobriety test and take a blood alcohol concentration test, if the test shows that you have a blood alcohol concentration which is 0.08% or higher and you fail the field sobriety tests, it may be tough to prove that you were not also intoxicated at the time you were operating your car.
Defending against a DUI
The bottom line is that if another driver reports that you are driving unsafely this can give the officer probable cause to either pull you over or ask you to take a field sobriety test. If you are arrested they also may be able to legally ask you to submit to a BAC test. So if you have been charged DUI, it is time to talk to a DUI lawyer.