Even if you’ve never been pulled over, you likely have some idea of what a field sobriety test is because you’ve seen them on TV and in movies. These are a series of physical coordination tests administered to a suspected drunk driver before moving on to chemical tests (like breathalyzers) that measure blood-alcohol concentration
In today’s post, we’ll discuss the three standard field sobriety tests (FSTs) and whether you need to take them when asked.
The Three Basic FSTs
There are many non-standard FSTs that police departments may choose to employ, but the three tests endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration include:
The one-leg stand: The officer asks you to stand on one foot, lifting the other about six inches of the ground. You hold for about 30 seconds, trying not to sway too much or fall over.
The walk-and-turn: Take an instructed number of steps in a straight line, walking heel to toe, turn on one foot and do the same coming back. The test measures your coordination and ability to follow directions.
The horizontal gaze nystagmus: Follow a moving object with your eyes (usually the officer’s finger, a pen or flashlight). There is an angle at which the eyes will involuntarily jerk when moving side to side. The angle is shallower when a person is alcohol impaired.
Do You Need to Take These Tests?
Most people are surprised to learn that the answer is no. You are not required to take FSTs when asked. Truthfully, FSTs are simply a way for officers to gather more evidence to require you to submit to chemical testing. There are plenty of people who couldn’t pass these tests sober due to medical conditions, nervousness or the poor testing conditions (on the side of the road, often at night).
There is no penalty for refusing field sobriety tests. However, there are penalties for refusing chemical tests (measuring your breath, blood or urine). It is important not to confuse the two.
You could be arrested even if you don’t take FSTs based on either chemical test results or the officer’s suspicions. If you do get arrested and charged for suspicion of drunk driving, please don’t take chances with your freedom. Contact a criminal defense attorney right away.