Field Sobriety Tests

When an officer suspects that a driver is intoxicated, he or she may
ask the person to perform a series of voluntary tests. These tests,
referred to as field sobriety tests, include exercises that test one’s
balance, motor skills and lucidity.

Some common sobriety tests include:

Stand on one foot at a time: An officer may look for
raising of the arms, swaying, hopping, putting the foot down, inability
to stand still, body tremors or muscle tension.

Follow the pen (a.k.a.: Nystagmus): An officer places an
object, such as a pen, 12 inches away from the driver’s face, and moves
the object side to side while watching the driver’s eyes. The officer
may look for involuntary jerking or trembling of the eyeball.

The Rhomberg Balance test: The driver is asked to tilt his
or her head back, close his/her eyes and count 30 seconds silently. An
officer may look for the inability to stand steady, body or eyelids
shaking, opening eyes to maintain balance, swaying or muscle tension.
This test is also intended to check an individual’s “internal clock,”
which may be slowed with the use of alcohol, or sped up with the use of
stimulants.

Walk and turn: An individual takes “heel-to-toe” steps in
line then turns and takes the same number of “heel-to-toe” steps back.
An officer is checking whether the individual can balance, follow
instructions, be coordinated, and start/stop when asked.

Finger to nose: This test requires an individual to close
one’s eyes, stand straight with feet together and touch index finger to
nose. An officer may look for body sway or tremors, eyelid tremors or
muscle tension.

Other field sobriety tests include:

  • Walk in a straight line
  • Touch each finger, one after the other, to thumb
  • Count backwards
  • Recite or sing the alphabet

In addition to roadside exercises, an officer may require that an
individual take a Breathalyzer test to check the
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC),
based on the person’s breath sample.

Field Sobriety Tests are intended to check an individual’s motor
skills and “divided attention,” a critical skill used while operating a
motor vehicle, while a breath test is a chemical test to
estimate level of intoxication. Each State has different laws regarding
how much weight a roadside test will hold in a DUI / DWI arrest. Field
sobriety tests are voluntary, but refusal to cooperate may result in an
automatic arrest.

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