Following an increase in arrests of people driving while intoxicated or impaired from November 2021 to January 2022, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department is providing tips for students on signs of an intoxicated or impaired driver and what actions they can take to help keep the roads of Lincoln safe.

Driving while intoxicated or impaired, or DWI, is almost the same as driving under the influence, or DUI, according to John Backer, captain of patrol services at UNLPD. One of the main differences between DWIs and DUIs comes down to penalties, but they are otherwise mostly the same, Backer said.

Backer said UNLPD officers do not do DWI or DUI checkpoints, which are law enforcement operated roadblocks where police check the sobriety of every driver that goes through the checkpoint. 

“We do take enforcement action when we suspect a DWI because that has a direct impact on campus safety,” Backer said. “When we come across a driver who we suspect may be driving under the influence, then we proceed with an investigation because we recognize how important it is to get that person off the road just for the safety of everyone else.”

According to Backer, some of the signs of someone who is intoxicated or impaired or that someone who is driving is intoxicated or impaired are:

  • Delayed or slowed reactions

  • Slurred speech

  • Stumbling over themselves

  • Difficulty walking or swaying while standing

  • Odor of alcohol

  • Not stopping for stop lights

  • Nearly hitting people or obstacles

  • Turning into an incorrect lane

“The odor of alcohol is primarily the biggest one and the first indicator that we come across when we have a traffic stop,” Backer said.

Backer said that a slowed physiological reaction time and impaired judgment are the most dangerous aspects of someone driving while they are intoxicated or impaired. For example, a slower physiological reaction time can lead to someone not stopping in time or confusing the gas and the brake, while impaired judgment can lead to someone speeding, taking more risks when driving or road rage, according to Backer.

In 2020, there was a substantial drop in DWI arrests since there were a lot fewer students and people on campus, and bars and other establishments were not always open due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Backer. UNLPD officers made 24 DWI arrests in 2020 and 47 DWI arrests in 2021. There were three DWI arrests in August 2021, one DWI arrest in September, two arrests in October, one arrest in November, five arrests in December and six arrests in January 2022.

“During the summer months, we’re not as busy [with] calls for service because the population on campus is much lower, so you may have more officers available to look for safety violations while driving,” Backer said. 

Outside of certain holidays and occasions that tend to lead to increased alcohol consumption, such as the Fourth of July or Memorial Day, UNLPD does not experience many opportunities for grants through state and federal funding to increase DWI enforcement, Backer said. 

Outside of those funding opportunities, Backer said that it is mostly a matter of staffing on UNLPD’s part. It depends on how many officers they have available to detect these driving violations and how many staff there are compared to the amount of calls they receive from people who need assistance from them.

“Traffic enforcement really is just a part of what we do,” Backer said. “It’s important for safety, just to keep everyone slowed down on campus. Obviously we’re a very pedestrian-heavy area, so we want to focus on that, but it’s obviously just a small part of everything that we do on campus.”

If someone suspects that a driver is intoxicated or impaired, Backer said to call 911, which will alert both the Lincoln Police Department and UNLPD.

“I encourage [calling 911],” Backer said. “Sometimes people are hesitant to get others in trouble, but we really are talking [about] saving lives [at] this point.”