What to Do if You See a Drunk Driver

What to Do if You See a Drunk Driver

Drunk driving is one of the most frightening risks on the road. Unlike icy roads or semi trucks, drunk drivers aren’t something you can anticipate. They come onto the road without warning, creating serious problems and risk for everyone on the road with them.

The problem of drunk drivers in the United States is serious. According to the CDC, almost 10,000 people were killed in 2014 by drunk drivers, which is about 1/3 of the traffic-related deaths in the country. This includes 209 children that were killed as a result of a drunk driver. That same year, over 1.1 million people were arrested for driving under the influence, and a total of 121 million people self-reported that they had driven while under the influence that year. That’s a staggering number of drunk driving cases, and these numbers are typical of most years.

So what does this mean for you? How can you protect yourself and your family against the risks posed by drunk drivers? With numbers like this, there’s a high likelihood that you will face a drunk driver at some time in your driving career, so here’s what you need to know to protect yourself and your family.

Know the Signs

Not all drivers who appear unsafe are actually drunk. Distractedness, tiredness and even failing to pay attention can cause even the safest driver to weave a little bit. So before you jump to conclusions about a driver you see, make sure you have good evidence that they are, in fact, breaking the law.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), some of the signs of a drunk driver include:

  • Driving 10 or more mph below the posted speed limit.
  • Abrupt or illegal turns
  • Drifting in and out of traffic
  • Signaling that doesn’t match driving actions
  • Driving over the center lane marker
  • Slow response at traffic signals
  • Driving somewhere other than the road
  • Weaving and zig zagging across the road
  • Forgetting to turn on headlights
  • Swerving consistently while driving
  • Tailgating
  • Quick acceleration or deceleration
  • Nearly colliding with objects, the curb, or other vehicles

If you’re noticing a combination of these things, most likely you are dealing with a drunk driver. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Get Safe – First and foremost, get to a safe spot. Stay as far back from the vehicle as possible, or get off of the road if you can. Your safety should be your top priority, and a drunk driver is always an unsafe driver.
  2. Take the Information – If possible, notice and remember the license plate number and the vehicle’s make, model and color. While you don’t want to put yourself in an unsafe position to get this information, you do need to try so you can get help, and the law enforcement officials will need this information. However, no matter what, your safety is your top priority.
  3. Ignore the Driver – Don’t pass the driver or make signals to get him to pull over. He’s not in a coherent state, and he’s not going to listen to you. These types of actions simply increase your risk of being involved in a collision. Simply get the information, and then get out of the way.
  4. Get Help – As soon as possible, pull over and dial 911. Give the operator the description of the vehicle and license plate number, if you can, as well as details about what road you are on, what intersection you are near and what direction you are traveling. Describe the driver’s behaviors that are making you suspect drunk driving. If possible, stay on the line with the dispatcher until the police arrive. This will make it easier for them to attempt to find and stop the drunk driver.

That’s it. That’s all you need to do if you see a drunk driver. However, in the heat of the moment you may feel a bit frightened and make some mistakes, so let’s cover some of the things you should never do.


What Not to Do When You See a Drunk Driver

So what should you avoid doing if you see a drunk driver? First, make sure you don’t confront the driver or try to perform a citizen’s arrest. This is very dangerous, and it’s possible that the driver is armed. An armed person who is intoxicated will act without warning and without thought, putting you at risk.

It’s also possible that you’re seeing a tired or distracted driver, not a drunk driver. Only the police have the right equipment to test for alcohol on the side of the road, and you don’t want to end up in an altercation over something less serious.

You also don’t want to engage a drunk driver because the officer on the scene needs to see the driver’s driving behavior to create a case against them. Call the authorities, help them locate the driver, and then sit back and let them do their job.

Next, make sure that you don’t try to speed up and pass the drunk driver. Unless the driver’s going incredibly slow, speeding up and trying to pass puts you at higher risk for an accident, because the driver could suddenly speed up and come at you from behind. It’s better to stay behind the drunk driver, where you can see them, until you can get off the road completely.

Lastly, don’t ignore the situation. Drunk drivers are a leading cause of fatal car accidents, and failing to do your part to alert the authorities means everyone else on the road is at risk. Let the authorities know what you’ve seen, then let them do your job and stop the drunk driver from putting others at risk.


Remember, drunk drivers are going to happen, and you need to be prepared. With this checklist, you will know exactly what to do the next time you’re faced with a drunk driving scenario.

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