How We Can Know – Signs of Drunk Driving

by Rex Shafer on October 3, 2008

How to Tell if a Person is Intoxicated

There are typically many signs when someone has had too much to drink.  Some may wonder if there really are outward signs, why don’t people stop intoxicated people from driving their car?  All too often, if someone is choosing to drink and drive, they are around other people that have been drinking as well.  If they’re fairly intoxicated, the signs could be missed.  There’s also the possibility that people just don’t know what to look for.  If the latter might be you, please read on. . .

General Behavioral Signs

There are a number of signs that someone is drunk.  There is a list of 50 signs of visible intoxication put together by the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission).  This lists what many of us might think of – slurred speech, not walking straight, spilling their drinks.  But what about drowsiness?  Mussed hair and disheveled clothing?  Foul language and argumentative?  Some things we write off – “He said he just felt tired and wanted to get home” or “She seemed cranky, but she had a bad day at work.”  The goal is to be observant and notice any changes that are abnormal – out of the ordinary for that particular person.  So, if you routinely spend time with fatigued slobs that swear all the time – you better have a sharp eye!

When Getting Into/Out of a Vehicle

Under normal circumstances, most people could get into their vehicle without too much trouble.  Unlocking the door (even without remote unlocking), getting into the car, finding the ignition.  These are things most of us take for granted when driving; things we simply “do” as part of driving.  However, when someone has been drinking (even without being “drunk”) they could exhibit signs.  Pay attention to how they use their keys.  Do they get the right key quickly or do they fumble with their keys and have to search for the one they need?  Do they get into their vehicle smoothly or does it seem like a chore?  Do they behave as if they are in an unfamiliar vehicle?  That is a big one.  Searching for the ignition, seeming to be unfamiliar with the vehicle’s controls, etc.  All are signs that this person may be intoxicated and should not be driving.

Physical Signs While a Vehicle is in Motion

First we will look at the driver from inside the vehicle.  If the driver seems to be disconnected from the task at hand or to “space out” or get distracted from driving easily, this could be a sign of intoxication.  Other signs could be if the driver gets lost easily or repeatedly while driving, swerves within their lane or from lane to lane, or changes speed (fast, then slow, then fast) for no reason.  Also, if the driver doesn’t pay attention to the road when talking – they look at you or are looking around (anywhere but at the road) – they may be intoxicated.  The safest bet is to take action if you think your driver is drunk.  Get them to stop and drive for them or find another way to get everyone home.

From outside the vehicle, many of the signs are the same.  Swerving, random speed changes, excessive braking – all are visible signs that a driver may be drunk.  A good rule of thumb when approaching a vehicle from the rear is to watch their front tires.  Even the smallest turn of the steering wheel will be noticeable in the movement of the front tires.  If the vehicle is towing any sort of trailer, these signs are magnified.  If the swerving were to get bad enough, the vehicle could “fishtail” (the rear of the vehicle tries to lead the front of the vehicle) and lose control ultimately resulting in an accident.  These signs are good ways to gauge which way the vehicle may go next.  If a driver near you seems intoxicated – proceed with caution!

How to Stop a Drunk Driver

The simple answer is to stop them!  The more in-depth answer here can range from easy to quite difficult, so be prepared.  When someone is confronted regarding their level of intoxication, the response is varied.  They could react fine and thank you for looking out for them.  They could behave stubbornly and not want to listen.  All too often, they react violently and start fighting back.  Ever watched that show COPS?  Drunks aren’t at their best and certainly not the most cognitively aware.  If you decide to intervene when someone is planning to drive drunk, again be prepared.  You may have to return force with force in order to stop them from hurting themselves or others.

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