Tailing a Drunk for 10+ Miles on the Beltway and 270 for the Common Good
If I could’ve made a citizen’s arrest from my car last night, I would have. Last night I followed a drunk driver for over ten miles on 270 South, Capital Beltway (inner loop towards College Park), and Colesville Road in Silver Spring until the police could locate us and pull him over.
I left work last night around nine. I knew something was amiss when I got onto 270 at Shady Grove Road. There was a driver who signaled left but then swerved a lane to the right. I passed on the far left, hoping to steer clear of him. However, there was a county police car about ten car lengths ahead of me, and I didn’t want to speed forward and attract the police car’s attention. I hoped the police officer would see the swerver, but the officer was too far ahead.
The erratic car, a tan-colored SUV, came up alongside me to the right. I was in the far left lane. He swerved and almost knocked me into the cement divider between the northbound and southbound lanes, scaring me half to death. I took a deep breath—that was a close one. I started shaking, and not just my hands, but my chest and abs. I glanced over and saw that the driver was spaced-out, either drunk or on drugs. Wanting to stay clear of him, I gunned it to get away from him and kept an eye on him in my rearview.
I watched nervously as he almost forced another vehicle into the barricade. This would not do. This would not do at all. I realized that the only way this guy could be stopped was if someone called the police and could keep close tabs on the driver. That someone would be me.
I dropped back and started following the drunk driver. He veered from lane to lane right ahead of me, startling other drivers left and right. I dialed #77 on my cell to contact the state police.
The state police dispatcher answered and I told him a tan SUV was driving erratically on 270 South near the spur, that he nearly wrecked two cars off the road within a mile, and that I was following him in an orange Honda Element. I gave him the license plate number. He asked for the make and model of the car. I said I was trying to keep my distance from the drunk driver but that I’d tell him the make as soon as I could. He asked me if I could follow the drunk driver and keep the police informed of his location. “Of course,” I said.
I don’t know how anyone else would react to this situation. Maybe some would follow him from a distance of eight car lengths, to stay out of harm’s way as much as possible. Maybe the dispatcher thought I was doing this. But the truth was, I didn’t want to let this guy out of my sight and then get away, nor did I want any other driver to get to close too him, so I did what I could. I felt that if I didn’t do my best to keep tabs on him, we would probably read about a severe drunk-driving accident in the morning paper.
Maybe I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility; maybe not. Maybe this is what anyone would do in this situation. Whatever happened, I was honestly not very worried about my safety. I’m a good driver, and my skills were really coming in handy. I would follow this guy for an hour if I had to.
The drunk driver headed east on the spur towards the Beltway. I immediately told the dispatcher we were headed east. I heard the word, “Toyota” come through the CB. Apparently one or more other people were calling this drunk driver in, too, because I wasn’t sure of its make yet. I sped forward and flashed my high beams to get the make of the car. “It’s a Toyota Highlander!” I cried out and then I hung back again.
Keeping my distance wasn’t working. Other cars got between us and a number of drivers were startled when they nearly got sideswiped or forced onto the shoulder when trying to pass him. You know how we pass around here in the D.C. area. We tend to speed up behind a car, and change lanes at the last possible second when passing. That doesn't work well when the car you're passing needs a wide berth.
The drunk driver was using all lanes of the road, including both breakdown lanes. I stayed back a distance from him to protect myself in case he caused an accident. At the same time, I served as a blocker by staying close enough behind him to discourage anyone else from merging between us, unaware of the situation. Sometimes he went 45 miles per hour, and other times he sped up and went 85.
I doubt he knew he was being followed. From the look on his face when I saw him, he wouldn’t know it if a helicopter was about to land on his roof.
While we were on the spur, the dispatcher told me there was some confusion about the location and that the police would intercept the driver as soon as they could.
When we merged onto the Beltway, the drunk driver was in the second lane from the far left, and he overcorrected. To my sudden fright, he swerved across lanes and hit the cement barricade to the left. A fist-sized piece of cement broke loose and danced across the road in front of me, narrowly missing my car. He maintained control and got back on the highway. This was really starting to look like an episode of “Cops,” or “World’s Worst Drivers,” from my vantage point.
“He just hit the barricade but he’s still going,” I informed the dispatcher. I desperately wanted to see police lights at this point. I had already witnessed about seven near-accidents in the past few minutes.
Near Georgia Avenue the dispatcher told me the police would intercept him at University Boulevard.
“I live off of Georgia but I’ll be happy to follow him until you all find us. This guy has to be pulled over. It’s unbelievable. He’s literally all over the road, at every speed,” I said.
“We’d appreciate it,” replied the dispatcher.
The drunk exited at Colesville Road South. I blurted out that we were exiting. I pictured the drunk plowing through the downtown of Silver Spring. They had to catch up to us by the time we got the downtown—there are too many near-misses between cars and pedestrians as it is down there. He wandered into the center lane and headed straight for the end of a metal guardrail in the median. I dropped back to shield myself from the inevitable head-on collision of metal against metal.
At the last split second, he recovered and side-swiped the guardrail on his left. This was getting to be a bit much.
The guy signaled to turn left, got in the turning lane, and stopped. I watched nervously as tons of oncoming cars went by. He sat there, even though traffic was clear. A pick-up truck came along, wanting to turn near him. The drunk rolled forward a few feet and they almost collided.
Then I saw police lights behind me. The police car raced past us, so I told the dispatcher that the police car just blew past us. The police car made a hasty U-turn down the street. The drunk decided to make a U and headed towards the on-ramp of the Beltway, just as the police car pulled up behind him and turned his siren on.
“We’ve got him,” the dispatcher told me. I was so relieved. I headed north and then turned around. As I passed by the drunk driver’s car, there were three police cars behind him.
I gave the dispatcher my information and he thanked me for my help.
I’m surprised and glad that no one got hurt, and I’m happy that I was able to help the police get one more impaired driver off the roads. Sometimes the police can’t do it alone--it takes a citizen to decide that is enough is enough--and to act on that decision in the best way they know how.