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How do traffic stops for drunk and drugged driving differ?

A police officer stopping you is no one’s idea of a fun event. When most drivers see those flashing blue lights in their rearview mirror or hear the whoop-whoop of a siren, they mutter under their breath and feel a spike in their heartrate. Even when drivers do not believe they were speeding or breaking any other laws, the nerves can kick in during a traffic stop. 

If authorities stop your vehicle and suspect that you may be impaired, your heartrate may increase even more. After all, an officer stopping you for a broken taillight and for drunk or drugged driving have drastically different degrees of severity. Officers have no way of immediately knowing whether a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol (though they may use visual observations to support their suspicions), so they typically conduct tests to gather evidence. 

What happens during these tests? 

When officers are investigating whether a person may be drugged or drunk, some similarities and differences happen during such traffic stops. For example, in both instances, officers may have drivers perform field sobriety tests. These tests allow officers to observe drivers’ ability to balance, other aspects of their coordination, the steadiness of their eye movement and their ability to follow instructions. These tests could apply to either drugged or drunk driving suspects because drugs and alcohol can both affect these aspects of a person’s abilities. 

In addition to field sobriety tests, officers may also conduct chemical tests to determine whether you may have drugs or alcohol in your system. These tests differ because the manner in which substances show up in your system differ. Officers may conduct the following tests after a traffic stop: 

  • Breath test: Officers typically use a breath test to determine whether alcohol is present in a driver’s system. However, it is important to note that these tests are unreliable because various factors could skew the results, including environmental elements, not properly using the testing device, what the driver may have eaten beforehand, medical conditions and more. 
  • Saliva test: When attempting to detect drugs in a driver’s system, officers may use a saliva test. Again, these tests are unreliable because they only provide a positive or negative result, and false positives are possible. 

Whether an officer suspects you of drugged or drunk driving, it is critical that you understand your legal rights. Facing DUI charges is serious, and gaining information on your criminal defense options and how such cases are handled in Illinois may prove useful to you. 

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