Bloodshot Eyes: Under the Influence of Alcohol or Allergies

Besides the ubiquitous “odor of alcohol,” perhaps the most common observation an officer will recite as an indicator of being under the influence of alcohol will be “bloodshot eyes.” It is very rare that we encounter a DUI case when at least these two boxes (odor of alcohol and bloodshot eyes) on the police report are not marked. When an officer relies heavily on “bloodshot eyes” as the sole basis for continuing the investigation of the driver, the case should be vigorously challenged because even NHTSA has discounted these clues as prejudicial and irrelevant to determining intoxication. NHTSA released a report in 1997 that removes “bloodshot eyes” as an indicator of impairment. The materials provide an excellent resource for cross-examination of an arresting officer. Specifically, the report states:

Finally, some cues were eliminated because they might be indicators more of social class than of alcohol impairment. For example, officers informed us that a flushed or red face might be an indication of a high BAC in some people. However, the cue also is characteristic of agricultural, oil field, and other outside work. Similarly, bloodshot eyes, while associated with alcohol consumption, also is a trait of many shift workers and people who must work more than one job, as well as those afflicted by allergies. A disheveled appearance similarly is open to subjective interpretation. We attempted to limit the recommendation to clear and objective post-stop behaviors.

Jack Stuster, U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA,
Final Report, The Detection of DWI at BACs Below 0.10,
DOT HS-808-654 (Sept. 1997), p. E-10

Written by Allen Trapp who is board certified by the National College for DUI Defense and the author of Georgia DUI Survival Guide Visit Website

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3 Responses to “Bloodshot Eyes: Under the Influence of Alcohol or Allergies”

  1. Fatigue would probably be the most common cause of bloodshot eyes. Followed by allergies, contacts and other environmental factors. Cigarette smoke is another common cause. Frequently, if there is an accident involved, crying seems to come with it.

  2. One more for review: LASIK surgery will leave a person with dry eye for 6 – 12 months after surgery. It would be physically impossible to have the “watery” part of “bloodshot and watery eyes” yet I’ve seen it used to continue an investigation or case.

  3. I awoke with Blood shot eyes and very itchy skin on my body…I had drank some cooking wine (very Little) could that of caused the reaction?

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