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How to Report a Drunk Driver

Written by | Updated January 7, 2020

You’re driving down the street or freeway when you notice a vehicle driving erratically. Should you notify the police? If you suspect a drunk driver is behind the wheel, please report the car and its driver to law enforcement.

Before you dial 911, take the following steps to provide the best description of the driver and vehicle to law enforcement. The more details you include, the better chance police have of finding the car and getting the driver off the road before they cause an accident.

Learn the telltale signs of drunk driving, which number to call to report a drunk driver, and how to report the event to authorities.

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Spot the Signs of Drunk Driving

There are telltale signs that the driver of a vehicle is impaired. While these behaviors do not guarantee that a driver is drunk, they still indicate the driver is a safety threat and should be reported to the police.¹

Signs of drunk driving:

  • Swerving or slowing below the speed limit
  • Erratic braking and acceleration
  • Sudden, abrupt turns
  • Driving down the center of a road, straddling lanes
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Stopping inappropriately in traffic
  • Failure to respond to traffic signals

If you do spot a driver showing signs of impairment, make sure you’re safely out of their path of travel before calling 911. The last thing you need is to become involved in a traffic accident while trying to report the driver.²

How to Report a Drunk Driver

To report a drunk driver, call 911. Give the operator as complete a description of the vehicle as possible. Local police or highway patrol can’t pull over the drunk driver if they don’t know who they’re looking for.

Details to Provide When Reporting a Drunk Driver

Gather these details for the dispatcher before calling 911 to report a vehicle for erratic driving:

  • License plate number
  • Make, model, and color of the car
  • Location of the vehicle, including street names or intersections

If you’re not driving, taking a picture of the vehicle and the license plate number with your phone may be helpful. If you’ve got a dash cam that can capture those details, even better. 

Be prepared to describe why you have a reasonable suspicion the driver is drunk, including any unsafe driving behaviors you witnessed.

Numbers to Call to Report a Drunk Driver

If a driver seems drunk, it’s best to dial 911 and the dispatcher will relay your report to the right law enforcement agencies. 

If you’re unsure whether the driver is impaired, call these police non-emergency numbers to relay your concerns. 

New York City: 311

Los Angeles: 1-877-ASK-LAPD,  1-877-(275-5273)

Chicago: 311

Dallas: 214-744-4444

Houston: 713-884-3131

Washington DC: 311

Miami: 305-4-POLICE (305-476-5423)

Philadelphia: (215) 686-8686

Atlanta: 404-614-6544

Boston: 617-343-4500 or 1-800-494-TIPS

FAQs

What happens if you report a drunk driver?

Because drunk driving is illegal, when you report a drunk driver, law enforcement will attempt to find the vehicle and assess whether the driver is impaired. If they have reasonable suspicion of alcohol or drug use, police conduct a field sobriety test. If the motorist fails the field sobriety test, they will be arrested and their vehicle impounded. 

Can I anonymously report a drunk driver?

In order to prevent drunk driving deaths and other fatalities, police encourage drivers to report any behavior on the road that seems unsafe. You’re not required to provide your name if you’d prefer to anonymously report a drunk driver or aggressive driving. 

Can you report a drunk driver after the fact?

While it’s best to report a drunk driver immediately so law enforcement can get them off the road and prevent crashes, it’s also important that you stay safe. That may mean you need to wait until you arrive home to report a drunk driver.

Related Pages on SafeWise

Sources:

  1. Colorado State Patrol, Department of Public Safety, “Report a DUI/DUID Driver
  2. California Highway Patrol, “Reporting Drunk Driver