Many false DWI arrests occur simply because the driver was unwittingly showing symptoms or behavior that made the officer suspect DWI. One particularly unusual example was reported in Phoenix, Arizona last year when a female driver experienced a panic attack during a routine traffic stop—and ended up being arrested.
According to reports, police pulled the woman over after observing her allegedly commit several moving violations. The woman, who had a fear of men in general and police in particular, began to enter panic attack mode after the cops harshly called for her to pull over on the police car intercom and due to the “intimidating attitude” of the cop who approached her. She explained her anxiety to the police, and they requested a female officer to come to the scene. Instead, more men showed up. They began performing sobriety tests after detecting a faint smell of alcohol. The driver admitted to having a drink four hours earlier and blew a .02 on the breath test—well below the legal limit. Still, despite her repeated efforts to convey her behavior was caused by anxiety, they arrested her on suspicion of DWI. The woman has since filed suit against the police department.
How Can Panic Attacks Be Translated as Intoxication?
Strange as this woman's story may seem, it's not as uncommon as you might think. There have been other reports in which police mistook panic attack symptoms as evidence of drunkenness and made an arrest—including arresting one driver who was sitting in her parked car in a parking lot during the attack.
How can having a panic attack in your car be mistaken as DWI? As it turns out, panic attacks often share many common symptoms with intoxication, including, but not limited to:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
What to Do If You Have a Panic Attack Behind the Wheel
If you're prone to panic attacks, what is the best way to respond if you have one behind the wheel—both for your own safety and so as not to attract unwarranted suspicion of DWI?
- Pull off the road as soon as possible. Continuing to drive during heightened emotions or while experiencing panic symptoms can be unsafe both for you and for others.
- Turn off the vehicle and take your hands off the keys and/or the steering wheel. DWI in Texas is defined as being “intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” You want to remove any possible indication that you are “operating” the vehicle.
- Follow your physician's prior guidance on handling panic attacks until the symptoms subside.
- If approached by police, explain to them what is happening as calmly as possible. Ask for medical assistance, if needed.
- If your panic attack results in a false DWI arrest, contact an attorney as soon as possible to help you fight the charges.
For the best chances of a positive outcome in your DWI case, consider hiring an attorney who is Board Certified as a DWI defense expert. If you're fighting a recent DWI arrest, Doug Murphy Law can help. Contact our office today.