The holidays are upon us – don’t ruin your merriment by driving under the influence. Now is the time to consider your plans. Do you have a designated driver? Is ride sharing an option? Or how about resolving not to drink more than one drink (or none is better) at that Christmas party? Drinking impairs a person’s judgment and that is often why someone gets behind the wheel when they shouldn’t. You should have a plan for your holiday celebrations that includes a strategy for getting back home without getting behind the wheel if you are going to drink.

California law enforcement typically see a 20 to 30 percent increase in DUI arrests during the holidays. One of the reasons for the increased arrests is that most law enforcement agencies across the state intensify their patrols for impaired drivers. At certain dates during the holiday period, when drinking and partying is most prevalent, law enforcement agencies initiate what is termed “maximum enforcement periods.” The other reason for the increase DUI arrests during the holiday is obvious: people are attending parties or otherwise socializing.

Getting arrested for a DUI may be the “second best” outcome next to getting home safely. Driving under the influence can have far more devastating outcomes as everyone knows. Yet, we do it anyway. We all make mistakes. If you find yourself pulled over after drinking even one drink, you risk a DUI.

If you are pulled over, you should do the following:

Cooperate fully with the officer’s directions to produce your driver license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration and to step out of the car if asked.

You do not have to answer any questions, but belligerency may irritate the officer, so it is best to be polite but to respectfully ask the officer, “Am I obliged under the law to answer those questions?” The answer, under California law, must be “no.” The officer may try to further engage you, but you can continue to ask if you are required under the law to answer the question. This is just a suggestion; you may want to handle it in another manner. But be aware that the officer is trying to get answers that can be used against you later if you are arrested for DUI as well as to make observations of your speech and mannerisms—also evidence that can be used later. Whatever you do, never admit to the officer that you have been drinking with statements such as, “I just had two beers but that was several hours ago.” This will not get you off the hook.

If the officer asks you to perform field sobriety tests – the tests that ask you to walk a toe to heel straight line, etc. – you can decline. Field sobriety tests include asking you to blow into a device that measures your blood alcohol content. Again, you can just ask the officer if you are required to perform these tests under the law. The answer must be no. You can then politely decline. You may think declining these tests will make you look guilty, but I can assure you that even if you agree to perform these tests, if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you are under the influence, you will still be arrested. Now if you feel perfectly sober and know you drank very little, you might want to cooperate with these tests to avoid the hassle of a potential arrest (more below). But, this could be a risk, especially if you don’t weigh much. Even one large glass of wine could put a small woman over the 0.08 BAC limit.

All of the above happens during the detention. If the officer assesses, with or without the field sobriety tests, that you are under the influence, the next step is arrest. If you are arrested, you will likely be taken to the station where you must submit to a blood alcohol content chemical test (breath or blood draw) or you will face enhanced punishment and license suspension under California’s DUI refusal law.

Once you are arrested, it is very important to invoke your right to be silent. Don’t answer incriminating questions, use your best judgment. You do not have to answer any questions at all. In most cases, you will be held at the police station after processing until you can arrange a ride home. Your car may be impounded if there was no one (a sober passenger or someone you could call) to drive it.

Following your arrest, the most important and immediate thing you should do is call an experienced DUI defense attorney. Orange County DUI defense attorney William Weinberg has successfully defended hundreds of drivers since 1993.  Mr. Weinberg offers a complimentary consultation to review your arrest and will offer his assessment of your defense options. You may contact him by calling him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.