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What are field sobriety tests?

On Behalf of | Nov 27, 2023 | Criminal Law

If someone is suspected of drunk driving, the police may perform a traffic stop. The police can use several tactics to investigate a driver of inebriation, typically starting with questions.

Officers can also use field sobriety tests to investigate drivers. These tests are a kind of physical evaluation. Here’s what you should know about field sobriety tests:

3 kinds of standardized field sobriety tests

There are three standardized field sobriety tests sanctioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Here’s what you should know about each one:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN): The driver may be asked to focus on an object, such as a pen or finger while it moves back and forth. The police are watching for eye flickering from the driver as an indication of inebriation. 
  • Walk-and-turn test (WAT): The police may ask the driver to walk on a straight line and walk back to where they started. The driver may fail at the test if they walk off the line or use their hands to keep balance. 
  • One-legged stand test (OLS): The driver could do a test where they stand on one leg. They may have to keep that position for several seconds. Dropping their leg or falling could cause the driver to fail the test.

These tests often precede chemical tests, such as breath, urine and blood tests if the police do not believe they have sufficient evidence to prove whether the driver is drunk.

Non-standardized field sobriety tests

Law enforcement is not limited to standardized field sobriety tests. An officer who asks a driver to, for instance, put their hands on their toes and spell the alphabet is conducting a non-standardized field sobriety test.

Field sobriety tests are often inconclusive. Medical issues and disabilities can lead to a driver being falsely charged with drunk driving. People who are facing drunk driving charges may need to learn about their legal defense options.