Motorcycle Riders and DWI
Unfortunately, motorcycle riders are often a targeted group. It is difficult for a lot of people and a lot of police officers to get over stereotypes. While police may raise an eyebrow about all bikes, this is especially true for clubs and independents. I wrote this page to detail the exact things police are looking for when they follow bikers. I am a member of MRF and I support riders. I want to provide information to motorcycle riders so that everyone can be informed. Although some of the following is well-known and obvious, some of it isn’t. And I couldn’t find it all gathered nicely on one page.
There are many different moving parts to a Motorcycle DWI. I have many pages that outline how your case will go, breath testing, blood testing, and more. Please check them out if you are interested. My pages detail everything that someone has been accused of DWI needs to know. And stress the importance of hiring a lawyer who knows how to challenge the science.
What are Police Looking For? The NHTSA Manual
NHTSA is the federal organization that sets the rules for all DWI detection. Because it is federal, the information on this page can apply equally all riders nationwide. When police are looking for drunk drivers, they are hunting different things with a motorcycle as opposed to a car. This is for obvious reasons—two-wheeled v. four-wheeled. Still, many people get a Motorcycle DWI for speeding. Speeding is not a sign of intoxication.
The “Excellent” Cues
The NHTSA manual lists several “excellent” cues for detecting intoxicated drivers—meaning that these cues correlate to blood alcohol concentration. This is something of a baffling overstatement. These “excellent” cues predicted intoxication only 50% of the time. So go figure. There are also so-called “good” cues that predicted intoxication between 30-49% of the time. First, the excellent cues.
1. DRIFTING DURING TURN OR CURVE
When an officer sees a biker take a wider than necessary turn, they will look to pull that driver over and begin conducting a DWI investigation. What is a wider than normal turn? It can be difficult to detect. When a biker is cornering, it can easily appear to an officer that a wider than necessary turn was taken.
2. TROUBLE WITH DISMOUNT
Bikers will hitch their kickstands to park without thinking about it. However, it does require a short and complex balancing movement involving shifting weight onto one foot in order to pull the other foot over the seat.
3. TROUBLE WITH BALANCE AT STOP
At a stoplight or stop sign or whenever the bike is stopped, any biker usually puts one foot on the ground and rests their weight on one foot. Officers will be looking for bikers that struggle with maneuvers like this.
4. TURNING PROBLEMS
In general, police are looking for wobbling or general unsteadiness. It can be easy for an officer to see wobbling that indicates a mechanical issue on your bike, and mistake that for a sign of intoxication. The officer is most likely not a biker, and knows nothing about riding. Police are also looking for late braking while turning, and “improper leaning angle during turn,” and erratic movements.
5. INATTENTIVE TO SURROUNDINGS
What does this mean? What this cue indicates to me is that if there is nothing else that a police officer can specifically point to, this is the fall back.
6. INAPPROPRIATE OR UNUSUAL BEHAVIOR
The comments on this cue list “carrying an open container of alcohol,” and “ruining at the roadside.” Again, this is simply a catch-all
Officers are looking for bikers crossing lane lines or even for excessive movement within a lane. Importantly, this does not include any sudden movements to avoid road hazards.
The “Good” Cues
To recap, good cues correlate with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 between 30% to 49% of the time. For the most part, these are weak correlations at best.
1. ERRATIC MOVEMENTS WHILE GOING STRAIGHT
If a biker makes erratic movements or “sudden corrections” while going straight, NHTSA trains officers that there is a good probability of intoxication. There are many reasons why a perfectly sober driver might make a sudden correction.
2. OPERATING WITHOUT LIGHTS AT NIGHT
Officers will be looking out for bikers who are “riding too fast for road conditions.” Again, this is so vague that it is almost entirely subjective.
4. FOLLOWING TOO CLOSELY
In my experience, perfectly sober drivers of both cars and bikes will often follow too closely. Unsafe driving does not accurately correlate to drunk driving.
5. RUNNING A STOP LIGHT OR SIGN
This one is pretty obvious, but if a biker attempts to evade a traffic stop, the officer will be looking or intoxication.
7. WRONG WAY
This is one that is a pretty easy mistake to make in a downtown with many one-way streets. Especially at night.
Most of these cues are not very strong indicators of intoxication. The best advice, if you do get a motorcycle DWI is to be cordial to the officer, but to not say anything. I have seen so many cases where the arrested person damages their case by starting to talk. If you are interested in more information, read about beating the charge, what it could cost you, and the consequences. If you get a motorcycle DWI, call me and I am happy to talk to you about your charge.