What are the police looking for in a field sobriety test?

On Behalf of | Feb 15, 2022 | DUI Defense

Getting pulled over can be nerve-wracking. Like many drivers at a traffic stop, you may have no idea why an officer pulled you over or what will happen next.

When an officer starts asking questions about your activities earlier in the evening, you may worry that the next step will be a field sobriety test, especially if you were unsure if you were ok to drive. In general, there are three tests officers will use to decide if they should investigate further.

Here’s what officers are looking for in the three main field sobriety tests.

Walk-and-turn test

The walk-and-turn test is often the test you see on TV and in movies. If the officer chooses this test, you will walk a specific number of steps heel-to-toe, turn and take the same number of steps back.

When officers conduct the walk-and-turn test, they look at whether you can maintain your balance and follow their directions. If you cannot perform the tasks or your performance indicates you have been drinking, the officer will likely move forward with checking your breath, blood or urine to determine your blood-alcohol content.

One-leg stand test

Another well-known test is the one-leg stand test. For this test, the officer will ask you to stand with one foot about six inches above the ground while counting slowly until the officer tells you to stop.

While performing this test, the officer will look at your ability to maintain your balance and follow the directions.

Horizintal gaze nystagmus test

The name of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test is not very helpful for understanding what the test is or what it measures. During this test, an officer will ask you to follow a moving object, like a pen, from left to right with your eyes.

Of the three most common tests, this test tends to be simple and objective. The officer will look for involuntary jerking of your eye, which is a reliable indicator that you had too much to drink.

One of the challenges with field sobriety tests is that they can be difficult to pass even while sober. Before you agree to one of these tests, keep in mind that you can refuse to take a field sobriety test. However, refusing does not mean the officer will not investigate further.

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