It's not uncommon for people to drink more during the holidays. The same goes for traveling. When nearly half of all drivers report speeding 15mph over the limit within the last 30 days, knowing how to handle a situation when an officer pulls you over and asks if you've been drinking is essential.
If you have been drinking, say so.
If an officer can smell alcohol, telling them you have had nothing to drink raises suspicion. If you smell like alcohol, acknowledge that. It's illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, not to consume alcohol and drive.
Know what counts as being "under the influence" of alcohol.
In Iowa, an alcohol-related OWI can be proven in one of two ways.
- With a blood-alcohol concentration equal to or over .08, OR
- When, as a result of drinking alcohol:
- Your reason or mental ability is affected;
- Your judgment is impaired;
- Your emotions are visibly excited; OR
- You've lost bodily control (to any extent!)
Yes, you can be convicted of an OWI even if your BAC is below .08!
An officer will look for evidence of any of those four factors. The best thing you can do is keep calm and make it apparent that none apply. If any are obviously applicable and you have an explanation, explain it. The officer doesn't know you, and they aren't going to give you the benefit of the doubt. A learning disability, degenerative condition, or even simple nervousness around police might become probable cause for an arrest if left unexplained.
Know that field sobriety tests are optional.
Not only are they optional, but they're also subjective and unreliable. When was the last time you stood on one leg for 30 seconds? Did you practice with your other foot extended in front of you, six inches off the ground? Were your hands at your sides? Rather than attempt testing routinely failed by sober people, request a preliminary breath test ("PBT").
Know that a preliminary breath test is inadmissible.
A PBT is a small, handheld device an officer uses to determine whether someone is driving over the legal limit. They are relatively accurate but could be better. Because of this, Iowa law says the results "shall not be used in any court action." Therefore, you can agree to PBT testing, knowing that even if you blow above the legal limit, you won't necessarily be convicted. If you ARE above the limit, you will almost certainly be arrested.
TIP: The officer isn't required to tell you the outcome. Agree to take the PBT on the condition they share the results.
Know when to get help.
Sometimes you can't avoid an OWI arrest. In those cases: shut up and lawyer up. Typically, the officer will invoke "implied consent." In that case, you will lose your driver's license unless you consent to an admissible (and reliable) breath test. An attorney can meet with you in person for a private consultation before you make this critical decision. Our receptionists can take your call 24/7.
Don't drink and drive!
The easiest way to avoid legal trouble is by not getting behind the wheel if you've had anything to drink. If you drink, understand that alcohol takes time to leave the body. While waiting, estimate your BAC. Even better, buy a way to test it yourself. The fine on any OWI is an order of magnitude costlier than a personal breath-alcohol monitor.
Keep yourself and others safe this holiday season.