Maybe you swerved because a squirrel ran into the road, or perhaps you looked into the back seat and your car drifted slightly to the left, meaning that your tire grazed the centerline in the road. All of a sudden, you see flashing lights behind you, and the officer who approaches your vehicle asks if you had anything to drink.

You are about to take part in an impaired-driving traffic stop, which could result in criminal charges and the loss of your license. What should you expect is about to happen?

The officer will speak with you to determine if impairment is likely

Sometimes, there’s a perfectly rational explanation for driving behavior that seems impairment-related to an officer. A quick conversation may be all that is necessary to sort out the situation. Other times, behavior stemming from nervousness or a medical condition may lead an officer to believe that the person behind the wheel is under the influence. When that happens, the officer is probably going to ask you to exit the vehicle. 

The officer will probably conduct a field sobriety test

Typically, after interacting with the driver, the next step in an impaired driving stop will involve a field sobriety test. This involves the officer having the driver perform a number of actions in order to establish whether they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The test could include everything from walking and turning to balancing or even following the officer’s hands with your eyes. If a driver fails some or all of the tests involved in a field sobriety test, they will likely have to submit to chemical testing.

The officer will potentially request a chemical breath test

While in the field doing traffic enforcement, officers need something portable and simple-to-use. Although blood tests may be more accurate, they are more invasive and difficult to perform properly in a field setting.

Officers will typically collect a breath sample and perform a chemical test at the scene of the traffic stop. These units may provide false positives or inaccurate readings, but if the officer believes that the testing unit shows impairment, they will likely arrest the individual and then charge them with a crime. Thankfully, there are many defense options available to those facing impaired driving charges.