DUI Stops for Motors

Motors have distinct advantages when it comes to DUI patrol, but safety is of the essence

By David Kinaan  |   Feb 8, 2016

A common assignment for motorcycle units is a roving DUI patrol. Motorcycles are uniquely qualified for this type of assignment due to their ability to maneuver through traffic and look down on vehicles. They can quickly reach a vehicle that’s demonstrated signs of impairment. The goal, of course, is to stop the vehicle before any harm can be done. If the driver is simply tired or otherwise able to remain alert, the vehicle may be able to continue on their way. However, if the driver shows signs of impairment, appropriate enforcement actions must be taken.

In this segment, I want to look at methods of making the initial stop. We will look at solo motorcycle units and paired motorcycle units—and the differences therein. In the second article in this series, we will discuss conducting the contact and preliminary investigation.

Note: Making traffic stops is always dangerous. When you make the decision to stop a driver you believe may be impaired, an extra amount of caution is necessary. You need to be prepared for the driver to over-react, possible braking abruptly or making violent turning movements; and also be prepared for the driver to not see you at all, resulting in a failure to yield or pursuit.  In any case, be sure you check traffic around you prior to initiating an enforcement action and know where your “out” is incase things go wrong.

The best case scenario is for you to be familiar with the area you are patrolling and to have pre-chosen locations to conduct enforcement stops. Seek out areas that are easily accessible, well lit, and well known. Then do your best to guide errant drivers to these predetermined locations to conduct your DUI investigations.

Solo Motorcycle Unit

Left/rear wheel path approach: A solo motorcycle unit may elect to make the enforcement stop by using its emergency equipment and initiating the stop from behind the errant vehicle. The motorcycle unit can take a position in the left wheel path behind the errant driver, and initiate the enforcement stop using its emergency lights.

Again, the motorcycle officer should offset the motorcycle in the left wheel path, behind the errant vehicle. This path gives the errant driver the best opportunity to see you as early as possible, and, in case the errant driver panics and brakes abruptly, you’ll be in a good position to swerve out and pass the vehicle.

If the driver fails to respond to your emergency lights, you have several options. You can flash your high beam headlight to get the drivers attention. This is especially effective at night. You can tap your horn or siren to get the drivers attention. Sometimes, a few quick chirps on the siren, or the yelp mode, will serve well to quickly get the drivers attention.

Front-side approach: Another method to initiate an enforcement stop is to position yourself along the left- or right-front side of the errant vehicle. Never allow yourself to any further ahead of the errant vehicle than the vehicle’s front axle. From there, you can gain the driver’s attention and wave them over.

Be careful not to be too close to the errant vehicle when using this method. Generally, you’ll want to be in the next lane, and in the wheel path furthest away from the errant vehicle. You should position your motorcycle adjacent to the A pillar/front fender area of the errant vehicle. You’ll then need to divide your attention between observing the traffic ahead of you and gaining the attention of the driver you intend to stop. You can use a tap on the horn or siren to gain the drivers attention, and direct them over.

Again, I can’t stress enough the need to be far enough away from the errant vehicle when using this method to avoid being hit if the errant driver allows their vehicle to drift left or right.

When using either method, once you have the driver’s attention, you’ll want to fall in behind the errant vehicle and use your emergency lights to guide them through traffic to the location you choose for the stop.

Public address system: Sometimes the P.A. is the best way to deliver simple directions to the errant driver and avoid confusion. Remember: The motorcycle’s P.A. has limited capabilities and may not be clearly heard by the errant driver, especially when traveling at speed or when other traffic noise is present.

Paired Motorcycle Units

There’s the obvious enhanced safety factor of having two officers working together. Additionally, there’s the benefit of having two sets of eyes searching for impaired drivers while on patrol. Once an impaired driver is spotted, both officers need to clearly communicate who will be making the enforcement stop (the primary officer) and who will be providing the traffic control (the secondary officer). Once again, having predetermined locations for conducting your enforcement stops and DUI investigations is a good idea. By having specific locations in mind, both officers will know where they want to conduct the stop and will be able to easily coordinate directing the errant driver to that location.

The stops are initiated in much the same way as the solo motorcycle unit. Once it’s clearly communicated which vehicle the primary motorcycle officer intends to stop, the secondary motorcycle officer should drop back to provide traffic control. The secondary unit should use only their rear emergency lights and should keep as much traffic as possible away from the primary motorcycle unit and the errant driver.

The primary motorcycle officer can then either initiate the enforcement stop from behind, or from alongside, of the errant vehicle. After the primary motorcycle has gained the attention of the errant driver, and the errant vehicle is moving toward the location of the stop, the primary motorcycle should also drop back behind the errant vehicle. The two motorcycles should remain offset, and in trail (one behind the other, not side by side), until the errant vehicle has come to a stop in the desired location.

Once stopped, the motorcycle officers should pair back up and follow their department’s established policies and procedures for the roles of contact and cover officers.

Non-Compliant Drivers

If you encounter a driver who fails to yield to your emergency lights and siren, you should consider calling for a patrol car unit to assist with the enforcement stop. The additional lighting on a patrol car may attract the attention of your impaired driver.


Regularly review your department’s pursuit policy and ensure your enforcement stops are initiated and conducted in compliance with your policy. Whether you’re enforcing solo or in tandem, safety is your first duty. Impaired drivers are by definition dangerous. That’s why we’re getting them off the road. Stay safe.

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David Kinaan

David Kinaan

Sgt. David Kinaan retired in 2012 as the supervisor of the CaliforniaHighway Patrol Academy's Motorcycle Training Unit. Kinaan was an active member of the CHP for 29 years and started riding enforcement motorcycles for the CHP in 1989. He served in the Central Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, Westminster and North Sacramento Areas before coming to the Academy's Motorcycle Training Unit in 2008. Kinaan has published articles on motorcycle safety and motorcycle training in various public safety and civilian media outlets. He also consults with various entities throughout the nation, and provides expert witness testimony, on all matters related to motorcycle operations in enforcement and emergency services. Kinaan is currently a Quality Assurance Technician with Kawasaki Motors Corporation and is involved in the rework modification and testing of Kawasaki's ZG1400 Police Motorcycle.
David Kinaan

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