Overview of Field Sobriety Tests
Drunk driving is a major problem in our society, there’s no doubt about that. Many people get behind the wheel thinking they are fine to drive, only to be pulled over later and charged with DUI based on a blood alcohol level that is just a bit too high. One thing you may face when driving through a checkpoint on a Friday night is the field sobriety test. Here is an overview of field sobriety tests and what to do if you should fail.
Field Sobriety Tests: The Basics
Field or road sobriety tests are the first step police often use to determine if a driver may be under the influence of alcohol or other illicit substance. These tests often involve activities which allow the officer to gauge the balance, coordination, attention level and other elements of sobriety, and usually precede the use of a breathalyzer.
The results of a field sobriety test can be used as evidence in a DUI case and can establish probable cause for a DUI arrest. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has established a Standardized Field Sobriety Test which consists of three elements: The horizontal gaze nystagmus, one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn. Put together, these three elements are between 90 and 95% effective in indicating intoxication.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
When a person gazes to the side, their eye involuntarily jerks a bit. When that person is intoxicated, the jerking is far more pronounced. When an officer tests for this, they have the person follow a moving object such as their finger, and the degree to which the eye jumps at 45 degrees from center and at maximum deviation.
One-Leg Stand (OLS)
This is a test of balance and coordination. The suspect is requested to stand on one foot, with the other held about six inches above the ground, and count to 30. Officers watch for swaying, hopping, the need to use arms for balance, or putting their foot down.
The walk and turn test is designed to check how well the subject is able to complete multiple tasks at once — multitasking while attention is divided. The subject may, for example, be asked to take a number of steps (usually nine) along a straight line while walking heel-to-toe, then turn on a single foot and repeat the action.
Other activities that are not part of the standardized test may include standing feet together while tipping the head backwards, counting fingers, closing the eyes and touching the finger to the nose, leaning backwards, facing upward, while holding arms out wide or other tests of coordination, attention and focus.
If an officer believes based on the test that the driver may be intoxicated, they can arrest the driver on probable cause and/or request a breathalyzer test. In Florida under the law of implied consent if you are pulled over you are assumed to consent to these tests and refusal can carry penalties. This is why if you face charges of DUI, you should always seek the services of a qualified defense attorney. Read up a bit about what we do, and call us for a consultation of your case today or email us through our contact page.