"These days," says trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey, "the risk of a drunk driving charge is very real. The fact that you drink sensibly, very little, or not at all is no guarantee that you do not run the risk of an arrest for intoxication, especially if you are a stranger in the community."

In the early-morning hours of Feb. 28, 1982, a motorcycle patrolman stopped Bailey, 49, on a San Francisco street, ultimately charging him with failure to halt at a stop sign and driving under the influence.

After a trial just one day short of three weeks, the jury arrived at two verdicts: guilty of failure to halt at the stop sign and not guilty of driving under the influence.

Bailey says his out-of-pocket expenses, excluding attorneys' fees, was "just about $40,000. The average guy could expect to pay $5,000 to $10,000" for proper legal representation in a similar situation.

The well-known Boston-based attorney sets out his experience in How to Protect Yourself Against Cops in California and Other Strange Places (Stein and Day, 90 pgs., $9.95). He wrote the book "for the traveling vacationers and businessmen and women who . . . operate an automobile beyond the borders of their home state a good part of the time."

Bailey says the increase in tough drunk-driving laws "will be a benefit if people eventually become convinced that they ought not to drive after drinking more than a modest amount of alcohol." On the other hand, he says, a number of innocent people "will pay a price they do not deserve."

The frequent traveler's best protection against this possibility, he says, is to line up a competent lawyer in each place to be visited. Isn't that rather difficult? "There really is no substitute," says Bailey.

Bailey has no truck with those who drive while under the influence: "I have nothing to give in the way of help. I hope the cops catch you."

* Dick Tippie, manager of the National Safety Council's highway traffic safety department, notes that around 70 people are killed every day as a result of alcohol-involved traffic accidents. Some of his pointers on recognizing and dealing with drunk drivers:

* Watch for out-of-the-ordinary driving practices. "The drunk motorist often drives at inconsistent speeds--rocking the accelerator."

* Get out of the way. If an alcohol-impaired motorist is driving right behind you, "turn right at the nearest intersection and let him go by."

* Remember that drinking drivers often are forgetful. "Inebriated drivers occasionally will travel at night without lights or fail to dim lights to oncoming traffic."

Other possible indications of an inebriated driver: driving with windows down in cold weather; driving with head out of the window; overshooting or disregarding traffic control signals.

* Clean up for safety: A little dirt can go a long way in causing automobile accidents. Add inclement weather and the odds of an accident jump higher.

Drivers who explain an accident by saying, they "just didn't see the other car" often are absolutely right. "We know that dirty headlights can lose up to 50 percent of their output and as much as 70 percent when dirt is coupled with bad weather conditions," says Corning Glass executive Eric Birch.

* Many new cars, particularly those with front-wheel drive, are using semi-metallic disk brake pads (made of very fine steel wool) rather than the more traditional organic pads.

Raymark Corp., a brake-products manufacturer, claims the semi-metallic pads last "almost four times longer" than the organic pads, but warns that they should not be used on cars without power brakes "because extremely high pedal pressure would be required."

They recommend equipping non-power-brake cars with a "hybrid set"--one organic and one semi-metallic pad on each brake--to combine the higher-friction quality of the organic pad with the longer-wearing benefit of the semi-metallic.

* Rustproofing can be a car saver or a waste of money, according to the Better Business Bureau. Although undercoating may act as soundproofing, says the BBB, it can "accelerate rust instead of prevent it."

The time to rustproof is either before the car leaves the dealer or "soon after it leaves the retail lot." If that's impossible, the BBB says second best is after the car has been driven short mileage, "3,000 miles or so."

Free brochure on rustproofing (enclose a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope): Council of Better Business Bureaus, 1515 Wilson Blvd., Arlington 22209.

* The National Safety Council has available a new, free brochure: "Hot Tips for Cold-Weather Drivers." Among topics: Preparing before bad weather arrives; getting unstuck from snow; braking and maintaining control.

Send a stamped, self-addressed business-size envelope to: Public Relations Department, National Safety Council, 444 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

* FYI (For Your Information):

* The District and all 50 states require license plates measuring 6 x 12 inches. The District and 31 states require two tags; 19 require rear tags only.

* No-fault insurance is mandated in 21 states.

* The World of Wheels custom car and van show is scheduled for Jan. 21-23 at the Washington Convention Center. Last year's show, at the D.C. Armory, drew more than 70,000 visitors.