What Happens When You Get Pulled Over for a DUI?

    Driving under the influence is a serious charge that could result in jail time or steep fines. We’ve likely all seen media depictions of what happens when someone is charged with a DUI but is that how things happen? Check out the facts below and see how realistic the media really is.

    Getting Pulled Over

    In most cases, a DUI charge begins with the police pulling over a vehicle due to a traffic violation or signs of impairment. Even minor traffic violations can be cause for the police to pull over a vehicle and swerving or other erratic driving patterns can justify suspicion of signs of impairment. As long as the police pull over a car with reasonable cause to believe the driver was violating the law, they have a legal right to do so. (If there was no reasonable cause, the case could later be thrown out in court.)

    Initial Police Contact

    Most traffic detentions start with the police officer asking for a driver’s license and vehicle registration. If the driver shows signs of impairment, the officer will pursue their suspicions with further action. Slurred speech, impaired motor skills, or an odor of alcohol or marijuana will give the officer a reason to investigate whether or not the driver is under the influence.

    Further Questioning

    If a police officer suspects that the driver has been drinking or using drugs, they will ask if there has been drug or alcohol use. If the driver indicates in the affirmative, the officer will continue investigating. (Even if the driver denies use, the police officer could still further investigate the situation.)

    Vehicle Search

    If an officer has reason to suspect that there are drugs in a vehicle, they can search it without a warrant.

    Field Sobriety Tests

    If an officer suspects someone of driving under the influence, they could ask the driver to perform a field sobriety test. These tests are typically done on a voluntary basis. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed a series of three field tests, which are considered the “standardized FST battery.” These tests are considered to be reliable indicators of when an individual’s blood alcohol concentration is above .1 percent. The three tests include horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk and turn, and the one-leg stand.

    Preliminary Alcohol Screening Tests

    Preliminary Alcohol Screening tests are performed on a handheld machine that is used to measure an individual’s breath alcohol concentration.


    If the officer believes there is probable cause for a DUI arrest, they will take the driver to the local jail or police station. The driver typically is held until they are bailed out or a judge releases them.


    Passengers can’t be charged with a DUI for riding in a car with a driver under the influence. However, there are rare occasions when the passenger is charged with a DUI or related charge. This could happen for the following reasons:

    • Police aren’t sure who was driving, so they charge both individuals
    • Police believed the passenger helped drive or steer the car while it was moving
    • Another law was broken and was discovered during the traffic stop (such as underage drinking or illegal drug use)

    In some instances, if a passenger is sober and the driver is under the influence, the police may question why the passenger allowed the driver to operate the vehicle. Depending on the state in which the traffic stop occurred, the passenger could be charged with reckless endangerment for allowing the driver to operate a vehicle under the influence if they do not have a good reason for not driving themselves.