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How to Recognize a Drunk or Drugged Driver on the Road

It’s a trick question—an intoxicated driver looks like any other driver on the road. Drivers who are impaired by drugs or alcohol cover the entire ranges of race, age, gender, and social status. Sure, statistics show that younger male drivers—in their teens and twenties—are more likely than other segments of the driving public to be intoxicated, but that misses the point: any driver could be potentially drunk or drugged behind the wheel.

An intoxicated driver looks like anyone.

But an intoxicated driver doesn’t behave like everyone else. Whether speeding down the highway or standing by the side of the road taking a sobriety test, a drugged or drunk driver will display quirky behavior that law enforcement officers are trained to recognize. A police officer or sheriff’s deputy who spots these distinctive patterns will use his or her experience to bring in a potential offender for a blood or breath test.

As a civilian driver, you don’t have the expertise to recognize every time a Pennsylvania driver might be impaired by drugs or alcohol. However, there are certain signs of impairment that you can learn to recognize—and that will allow you to make the appropriate responses on the road.

Be Alert to Recognize These Signs of an Impaired Driver

Even well-trained law enforcement officers can’t always tell when a driver is intoxicated just by appearance, demeanor, or behavior—and that’s why those subjective judgments are often backed up by objective chemical tests. Even then, chemical tests are not 100 percent reliable, because some tests can give false positive readings or can detect drugs that were consumed days or weeks earlier. No test for intoxication should be considered perfectly accurate, whether that test is subjective or objective.

Fortunately, as a driver sharing the road with potentially drunk or drugged fellow drivers, you do not need absolution precision. You just need to be alert for unusual driving patterns that indicate another vehicle may not be under the control of a sober driver. Here are some of the most important warning signs:

  • Inability to stay in a lane, weaving between lanes, or steering off the shoulder or into an oncoming lane
  • Driving at an inappropriate rate—too slow or too fast—for the flow of traffic; failure to adapt driving speed to changing traffic conditions; or changing speed frequently without an apparent reason
  • Erratic signaling
  • Tailgating
  • Driving at night without headlights
  • Braking or stopping in traffic without reason
  • Over steering during turns
  • Almost colliding with another vehicle or a stationary object
  • Making illegal turns
  • Ignoring traffic signs and signals, or reacting inappropriately (e.g., overshooting a stop sign or stopping at a green light)

What to Do When You Spot an Intoxicated Driver on the Road

If you are alert of signs of a drunk or drugged driver, you may be at a loss for what actions you should take when you spot a vehicle operating in a suspicious manner. The answer is short and simple: avoid the hazard. Get out of the way of the erratic and dangerous driver, even if you have to exit the road.

If there is another passenger in the vehicle, he or she may use a cell phone to contact local police to alert them of a hazardous driver. You should not use a phone yourself when you need to concentrate on avoiding a potentially intoxicated driver, nor should you attempt to stop or detain the driver.

The Pennsylvania injury attorneys at Schmidt Kramer have over a quarter-century of experience in helping our neighbors in Harrisburg, Carlisle, Lebanon, Hershey, Colonial Park, and other nearby communities get fair and full Pennsylvania auto accident recoveries.

If you or your passenger has been victimized by a drunk or drugged driver in central Pennsylvania, contact our legal team immediately at (717) 888-8888 toll-free. We invite you to schedule a free, confidential case review and to download a FREE copy of our client report, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured in an Automobile Accident?

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