How do I prevent my drunk neighbor from driving?
October 13, 2011 11:37 PM   Subscribe

I have a neighbor on my block that seems to be an alcoholic. Every couple of weeks, I see him driving slowly down the block, pull into his drive way and drunkenly stumble up the stairs in the middle of the day. I don't care if he drinks all day long, but I am concerned that he drives drunk. There are lots of small children that live on our street, including mine and I don't want a drunk driving around. So far, I've only seen him coming him drunk and at that point it's too late to call the cops. I don't know him personally, so confronting him does not seem like a good idea. What can I do, short of a staking him out at the bar? I'd rather not entertain the idea of car vandalism.
posted by LemonOrange to Law & Government (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why is that too late to call the cops?
posted by The World Famous at 11:47 PM on October 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


So far, I've only seen him coming him drunk and at that point it's too late to call the cops.

Record him driving down your street, then show it to the police. Get his plates clearly in frame. Make sure you do this on public property. (IANAL, FYI.) Don't feel bad about videotaping and reporting a drunken asshole who may will eventually hit and kill someone.
posted by Mikey-San at 11:48 PM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Call 9-1-1 and tell them. Then find some way to keep him from going in. THe police told me before that they can't charge someone who has gone into the house, as the person might have taken a drink in the house. They said it's a long shot, but the legal risk is too high. However, they did red flag the house and told me they would try stopping the car at other times...sort of like a stakeout.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:48 PM on October 13, 2011


(FWIW, my advice isn't proof of anything. You cannot prove inebriation with a video recording. But it'll get the cops' attention.)
posted by Mikey-San at 11:50 PM on October 13, 2011


Have you called or gone into your local police station and asked them what is the best way to handle this? They may have ideas on how to handle the situation. Chances are they have dealt with this type of situation previously and may take all the guess work out of how to approach and take care of it.

I think it may be the place to start.
posted by 6:1 at 12:26 AM on October 14, 2011 [42 favorites]


Well he's probably drinking at a bar close by.

Next time you see his car there park yourself. Just wait for him to come out, get in the car, and drive away. Follow at a safe distance and THEN call 911. "911, I'm following a driver who is driving erratically and appears to be drunk."

I'm a drinker, but I have zero tolerance for drunk drivers and I have made this call several times myself - and have always been amazed at how quickly Johnny Law responds to this sort of emergency call.

This is the surest way to get the attention of the police and the best way to ensure that the police will have the evidence to deal with him.
posted by three blind mice at 12:42 AM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is probably not the case, but is there any chance the guy isn't drunk and instead has some kind of musculoskeletal disorder? I guess you'd know if you saw him sober on the way out for the day.
posted by JauntyFedora at 12:48 AM on October 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


How do you know he's drunk? Not saying he isn't, just that you can't make assumptions here. If you know for a fact it's alcohol then inform the local police.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:00 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Other things besides alcohol can make a person drive erratically. Various sleeping and anxiety pills could do it. Of course a person still should not be driving in that condition. And like JauntyFedora said, it could be something else.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:11 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


My feeling is that it may not be drinking causing the problem. Every two weeks would be odd self-restraint for an addict. The interval makes it sound more like a medical procedure (chemo, radiation, injections, etc) or maybe even something affecting your neighbor emotionally really strongly, like visitation with an estranged kid/spouse, going to court, divorce lawyer, therapy...in other words, I can think of a lot of more likely scenarios than drunk guy.

Seems to me like this might be a good time to get to know your neighbor better! You could just go over there solicitously (not confrontational), introduce yourself and mention that you saw him driving hom the other day, he looked unwell, and you were concerned. If he is evasive, you could add that he looked like maybe he was having trouble driving and you were worried he might not have noticed the kids playing. And then, that's all you can do to let him know you are witnessing his erratic behavior.

If he is ill, he might open up or he might not, but he's much more likely to be careful once you've brought it up; he may have been so focused on his own problems that it never occurred to him that he could be a danger to anyone lese.

And if he IS an alcoholic, you've given him a chance to realize his drinking and driving is an issue in the neighborhood. If it happens again, then you call the cops.

I want to caution you to think about whether it is at all possible you are over-reacting to what you saw, though. I know from experience that when you are home during the day looking after children, without adult conversation and intellectual stimulation, you can get cabin fever. I have known more than one Mom who, as a result, turned into Gladys Kravitz in the old Bewitched show, the gossipy neighbor who is just a little too interested in her neighbor's comings and goings.

This is probably not true of you, of course! But most often what seems like a Hitchcock Rear Window situation is in reality just a mundane thing that has been blown out of proportion by the speculation and imagination of the observer.
posted by misha at 4:48 AM on October 14, 2011 [17 favorites]


A dude here in the next bigger city, who has a nerve disease that makes it difficult for him to control his movements, got knocked down by the police at a bus stop and put into a cell overnight. It was all over the papers.

Nting the advise to tread lightly until you have sorted out what's what. You don't want to be wrong about this.
posted by Namlit at 5:22 AM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is probably not true of you, of course! But most often what seems like a Hitchcock Rear Window situation is in reality just a mundane thing that has been blown out of proportion by the speculation and imagination of the observer.

Except drinking and driving is a mundane thing, way more mundane than two weeks intervals between medical procedures, divorce lawyers making him upset, or sketchy visitation. Alcohol has the direct consequence of making one unable to drive safely. Visitation with family members? That's a stretch. One doesn't need to be an alcoholic to drive drunk, one merely needs to believe that one is not impaired enough to be a danger to others (or be too impaired to care). Occam's razor, etc etc.

I don't think telling her she's a cooped up paranoid SAHM is helpful in anyway. He drives erratically and doesn't appear to have control of his motor functions when exiting the vehicle. The most likely cause is alcohol, independent of a diagnosis of alcoholism. She's concerned. My advice is to call the cops, report his erratic driving every time it happens, tell them you suspect he may be driving under the influence and ask for advice.

If he has a medical situation, which is not entirely out of the realm of possibility, granted, he should have someone drive him on those days. If he's just emotionally distraught, well, maybe he needs some emotional support, but it's not fair to tell the OP she should be the one to confront him about his behavior and hope he shapes up and realizes he has a problem.
posted by lydhre at 6:13 AM on October 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Call 9-1-1 and tell them. Then find some way to keep him from going in. THe police told me before that they can't charge someone who has gone into the house, as the person might have taken a drink in the house. They said it's a long shot, but the legal risk is too high.

Yeah, this is the reason it's too late once he's at home. I've won that case before, although my client also hit a car and ran off, and "I was shaken up by the hit and run I had just committed, so I got drunk" wasn't a real winner at sentencing time for the hit and run. Still, we beat the DUI, which is the issue here.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:45 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have known more than one mom who, as a result, turned into Gladys Kravitz in the old Bewitched show, the gossipy neighbor who is just a little too interested in her neighbor's comings and goings.

Wow. If I saw someone doing the exact same thing that the OP saw, whether I was working or at home (and I've done both) I would be asking this exact same question. Because I would be worried about both big and little people (and pets) getting hit by someone who regularly drives erratically.
posted by pinky at 6:55 AM on October 14, 2011


My feeling is that it may not be drinking causing the problem. Every two weeks would be odd self-restraint for an addict. The interval makes it sound more like a medical procedure (chemo, radiation, injections, etc) or maybe even something affecting your neighbor emotionally really strongly, like visitation with an estranged kid/spouse, going to court, divorce lawyer, therapy...in other words, I can think of a lot of more likely scenarios than drunk guy.

Maybe the poster only happens to notice him doing it every two weeks and he's really doing it more often. And regardless of why this man is driving erratically, he is driving erratically and that needs to be addressed.

I would go to the police and ask them to deal with this matter. It's their job, after all, and best left to them.
posted by orange swan at 7:02 AM on October 14, 2011


I don't have a solution for you, but the reason for his stumbling seriously doesn't matter. If he can not control his movements, he should not be driving. Period. Drunk, medicated, emotional, nerve-damaged, whatever. If he's regularly driving while impaired by something, there is no reason to tiptoe around possibly being wrong about the cause. The important thing here is not avoiding hurt feelings, the important thing is to try to stop the dangerous activity before something terrible happens. If he has a medical issue or something, that's sad for him, but it doesn't make the driving any less of a problem.
posted by Dojie at 7:04 AM on October 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


The OP doesn't say he was driving erratically. It says he was driving slowly, and walking erratically. FWIW.
posted by TheRedArmy at 7:23 AM on October 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Call either the police non-emergency number or your city councilperson and say, "Look, I have this neighbor who appears partially incapacitated when he drives home from time to time. I don't know what's going on, but I'm concerned about children, pets, or even other cars getting hit. Since by the time I see him, he's already pulled into his house, I haven't called 911 -- what's the best way to handle this?" And then it's up to the authorities to make the call on his fitness to drive.

We had a similar situation in our neighborhood (only it was a traffic law violation, not drunk driving) where by the time the police could have possibly responded, it was over, but it was happening again and again. We spoke with our councilwoman, who asked for as much detail as we could give about typical days and times, and SHE got patrol to cruise the neighborhood around those times for two weeks -- and they did catch the guy in the act. I'm not sure if us calling the cops directly would have been as productive unless there were an awful lot of complaints, just because our department is understaffed, but the councilwoman's weight behind the issue got it solved fairly quickly.

A similar situation occurred in another part of the neighborhood with some kids setting off fireworks at 2 or 3 a.m. and then running, often with vandalism of cars or houses (black spraypaint, mostly really offensive words). They were always gone before they could be caught. It took working with patrol over the course of a few weeks before the kids were caught.

The councilwoman pointed out it's better to deal with the actual situation and try to catch the violators in the act in these cases than to a) wait for an accident or b) let neighborhood anger about it simmer to a boiling point, where someone might go all vigilante justice (as someone might have done with the teenagers vandalizing at 2 a.m.) or it might escalate to a neighbor feud complete with constant nuisance calls to the cops, code enforcement, etc., possibly small claims cases, restraining orders, etc. Because the neighbors certainly knew, in both cases, who the dangerous driver was and who the teenaged hoodlums were, and at a certain point people's patience would run out.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 AM on October 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


He drives erratically and doesn't appear to have control of his motor functions when exiting the vehicle.

Except the OP didn't say he was driving erratically, they said slowly. I drive ultra slow down side streets, too, because people park on the road, and it's hard to see a kid darting into the street.

Additionally, the OP doesn't mention how this person seems at other times. Are they seen outside the house other than this every couple weeks? If the neighbour isn't, then my guess is going to be that it is a sick person getting treatment as well.

Yes, drunk driving is bad, but other than difficulties getting from the car to the house, I don't know where the OP is getting the drunk thing from. I wish they would pop back in with more info, it may help us to advise. Right now, all I can say is to call the police non-emergency, and give them the OP's suspicions & the guy's license plate, and vehicle details, but I feel a bit brown shirt-ed doing that.
posted by kellyblah at 7:29 AM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am with Eyebrows McGee, start with the non-emergency number of the police, and be a little persistent if they resist. I disagree with all the folks who caution that you may be overreacting. You probably are not, and so what if you are? If the person has a medical condition it should be an easy conversation with the cops, and perhaps that medical condition means he shouldn't be driving anyway. If the person is drunk driving they are probably really plowed. You have to be pretty well over the legal limit before stumbling sets in, and it is those drivers that cause the bulk of the serious drunk driving accidents. Drunk driving is a major killer, and so avoidable. If you do nothing and tragedy occurs you will never forgive yourself.
posted by caddis at 7:47 AM on October 14, 2011


I think the talking g to your neighbor first is a good first step. By doing so, you a.) Introduce yourself, b.)get an idea of what's going on and c.)not potentially be over reacting. I say talk to your neighbor first as its something that's worked out well for me when I just as easily could have called the police. Last time I did this was about a month ago as this kid was driving fast through the neighborhood and playing VERY loud bass. After confronting him and his father in a very nonconfrontational way explaining why this is a problem it stopped completely. Sometimes being neighborly is a good approach.

He may very well be getting injections, or have a muscular skeletal issue. Just because he may walk slightly unnatural (as I do with my damned back) doesn't mean he is unsafe to operate a machine.

Granted if he is obviously drunk, call the police. That is the best solution.
posted by handbanana at 8:26 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm with misha on this one. Leave the old guy alone, mind your own business.
posted by Rash at 8:32 AM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


If he is driving slowly or walks around stumbling or whatever, I don't how you could make the connection that he is a mad alcoholic. Maybe he has another issue that he could use help with?? As long as you are paying close attention to your neighbors it might be worth a shot to talk to him? Walk over, say hi, ask if he is ok, or see if he smells like a bar-room floor.

If you call the cops on him and find out later that he does have some nerve problems or maybe is just plain tired for one reason or another then your behavior is very assholish.

Your first step as a parent is to teach your kids that disoriented drivers and even distracted drivers talking on their cell phones are extremely dangerous and to stay out of the street. Teach them to be extra careful when crossing streets at corners because nearly every driver will not see them.

By all means call 911 when you see dangerous drivers but obviously do not call them when you are following them in your car because that puts you in the dangerous driver category as well.
posted by JJ86 at 9:03 AM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am operating under the assumption that if this was the neighbor's standard way of driving (noticeably slowly) and walking ("drunken" stumbling) the OP would not be concerned. If what she sees on those days is the exception, then yes, I'd qualify driving slowly as driving erratically for him.

OP, if these are the only times you see your neighbor and for all you know this is his normal behavior, then he potentially drives slow and has a motor-control issue. If these incidents are not the norm for your neighbor, then I stand by my opinion that you're certainly well within your rights to be concerned that he may be driving under the influence of something and that you should speak with the police.
posted by lydhre at 9:09 AM on October 14, 2011


Regardless of the reason, the driver does not seem to be operating safely. If the driver is ill for some unfortunate reason, the police or courts may be more lenient in the consequences, but impaired drivers should not drive. Call the police, describe the situation as factually as possible, and ask for some increased enforcement on your street.
posted by theora55 at 9:15 AM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Driving slowly does not equal impaired driving.

As the OP has not deigned to return and fill us in on what he or she sees the other times, what kind of hours/work this person does, etc. we can't know if this is the only time the neighbor is seen. The neighbor could be a medical resident coming off a 48 hour shift for all we know. And I know I've been "stumbling" after 16 hour days much less anything more.

It's true, that if he or she is so tired that their walk up to the house could be perceived as "drunken stumbling" then they shouldn't be driving either. But turning loose the cops ON A NEIGHBOR without any direct interaction with them seems like such a dickish move.

Best case in the scenario of calling the cops prior to interacting is that you stop your neighbor from this behavior but now they HATE you because you're THAT person.

Just muster the courage to go talk to him. If you're right then you can feel good about your next course of action. If you're wrong, you've spared yourself potential drama for the entire time you both live on that block.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:51 AM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


lydhre: He drives erratically and doesn't appear to have control of his motor functions when exiting the vehicle. The most likely cause is alcohol, independent of a diagnosis of alcoholism.

I don't think the most likely cause is alcohol, though. Middle of the day, only every couple of weeks makes it seem less likely to me. I mean, if we want to assume, I can think of tons of reasons why the driver might go slowly down the street and then have a tough time getting out of the car and walking to the door. Here's some more I just now thought of: physical therapy for an injury has left him aching all over (I've been there); cancer, lymphoma or an auto-immune disorder has him taking drugs every couple weeks that left him feeling sick. Those are just as likely.

Obviously if the man looks like he is going to plow into a child, the OP should call the police. But that's not the situation described here.

What we know is that this guy is her neighbor, and if you go to the police about a neighbor on nothing more than a suspicion, you've made an enemy of that person. If he's a drunk, it's worth it. But if he isn't? The guy could easily make her and her children's lives nasty in that neighborhood from here on out, simply out of spite. I think it is in the OP's best interest to walk a couple doors down and talk to the guy first.

I don't think telling her she's a cooped up paranoid SAHM is helpful in anyway."

Hey, I'm an SAHM! I empathize with the OP. But normal, smart, healthy people can go a little over the top as a result of being at home all day with no one for company but kids and talk shows (most of them ghoulishly telling you how your kids are in OMGCONSTANTDANGER from strangers, drugs, cough syrup and kitchen cleaners (huffing), bullying, cyber-bullying, dog attacks, feral cats, raccoons with rabies, getting caught between the slats in the crib or the wall and the bed, having the bunk bed collapse on them, drowning in a couple inches of water, strangling on those cords you have on your blinds, etc.).

The OP's post pretty much reads, "A neighbor I don't know drove slowly and walked funny on (two, three?) occasions two weeks apart and I think he is a drunk. I probably shouldn't stalk him to a bar or vandalize his car."

I just think you ought to have more to go on than that before you start calling the police in to arrest someone.
posted by misha at 10:45 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is probably not the case, but is there any chance the guy isn't drunk and instead has some kind of musculoskeletal disorder?

JauntyFedora, this wouldn't make me feel one bit safer about him driving through my neighborhood. I don't care why his driving is out of control, if it is.

And as for "slow isn't necessarily out of control", technically true - but that's for the cops to determine, not us. Driving well below the speed limit is a strong marker of impaired driving ability to the police, and will get you pulled over for a DUI test.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:53 AM on October 14, 2011


A dude here in the next bigger city, who has a nerve disease that makes it difficult for him to control his movements, got knocked down by the police at a bus stop and put into a cell overnight. It was all over the papers.

Nting the advise to tread lightly until you have sorted out what's what. You don't want to be wrong about this.


Namlit, since one person was arrested under mistaken reasons that one time, no one should report suspected drunk drivers until they have a chance to talk to them? Seriously?

Call the police, and let them handle it. That's their job. Yours is preserving your safety, and that of your neighbors.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:57 AM on October 14, 2011


It's true, that if he or she is so tired that their walk up to the house could be perceived as "drunken stumbling" then they shouldn't be driving either. But turning loose the cops ON A NEIGHBOR without any direct interaction with them seems like such a dickish move.

Speaking as a vulnerable road user, if somebody's coordination is so off that when they get out of their car and try to walk an onlooker thinks they are stumblingly drunk, I very much hope that that onlooker will be "dickish" and report it to the cops.

Drunk driving kills. So does distracted driving and fatigued driving. And the possible consequences are so negative and so severe that, IMO, it's better and more prudent to err on the side of assuming that somebody who appears to be visibly impaired actually is impaired, until demonstrated otherwise.
posted by Lexica at 2:25 PM on October 14, 2011


Okay, let's be fair... you're basing the assumption that this guy is an alcoholic on the way he walks. Not his driving, or so you write. And you've only seen it a couple times? This does not an alcoholic, or a problem make. It's very possible he IS and that there is a problem, but yeah, some people walk funny. And some people with disabilities that make them walk funny can drive a car with no issue. The OP said he's driving slowly. Slowly makes me think he's being cautious. Had they been swerving, I think it would have been important enough to mention.

Not enough to go on.
posted by metaphorik at 7:28 PM on October 14, 2011


Obviously I didn't give enough info about the situation. The reason why I think he's drunk and it's not a neuromuscular issue is because I've seen him in front of his house moving and acting normally. When I have seen him "drunk" he's practically crawling up the stairs, using the railing to pull himself up. I probably shouldn't have used the word "alcoholic" but I still do think he drives drunk.

There might also be a mental issue. The neighbor once standing in front of his house and yelled for someone to call 911, which my husband did. He ran over with 911 on the line and tried to convey the problem between the neighbor and the dispatcher or whoever was on the call. After giving the address and a physical description, the person said something to the effect of "Oh, yeah. We're familiar with them". Another neighbor, who is a mental health professional, was having what he thought was a friendly introductory conversation with said neighbor and recognized familiar signs. The neighbor was also quick to explain, out of the blue, that the reason why his garage door was boarded up was because he drove his car through it and blamed it on the sticky accelerator issues Toyota was having. Not impossible but a little bit weird, considering how much you need to use the accelerator when pulling into a driveway that's only 1 small car length long.

No, it's not a whole lot go to on, which is why I'm not sure what to do. But asking the non-emergency line or local precinct is a good idea. FWIW, I probably don't see this behavior on a more frequent basis because I'm not a paranoid SAHM who monitors all the activities on the block.
posted by LemonOrange at 11:56 PM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


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