If a Police Officer Asks You to Take a Field Sobriety Test What Should You Do?

Take a Field Sobriety Test

For a motorist, the appearance of flashing lights in the rearview mirror is rarely a welcome sign. If you drank a beer, a glass of wine, or consumed any other type of alcoholic beverage prior to getting behind the wheel, the appearance of the flashing lights can be downright frightening. In a typical DUI investigation, you will eventually be asked to exit your vehicle and perform a series of “field sobriety tests.” If you have never been through a DUI investigation, and a police officer asks you to take a field sobriety test what should you do?

Ultimately, only you can decide how to respond if asked to perform field sobriety tests; however, it helps to know what they entail and how they are used in a DUI investigation when making your decision. A police officer can use almost any field sobriety test he/she wishes, though most use the three tests approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and known as the “standardized” tests. The standardized tests include:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) —Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally as the eyes gaze to the side. When a subject is intoxicated, HGN worsens. The HGN test measure the degree of HGN of a suspect by asking the suspect to follow a slowly moving object, usually a pen light, from side to side with his/her eyes.

Walk-and-Turn (WAT) –

in this test a subject is directed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction.

One-Leg Stand (OLS) –

this test requires the subject to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands until told to put the foot down –usually a count of 30 seconds.

During each test the officer will be looking for “indicators” that determine if you passed or failed the test. Ultimately, success or failure is a subjective decision made by the officer. Given the wide variety of factors that can impair your performance on the tests, the odds are high that you will fail, even if you are not drunk.

The results of a field sobriety test are not admissible in court; however, they are used to provide the necessary probable cause to arrest you, at which time you will be asked to submit to chemical test. While you can refuse the field sobriety tests without any direct negative consequences, refusing the chemical test does have consequences, including the suspension of your driving privileges. Of course, an officer can arrest you anyway even if you refuse to submit to the field sobriety tests; however, if you are relatively sure you will fail the tests there is no reason to make the officer’s job easier.

If you are facing DUI charges, or have specific questions about the field sobriety tests, consult with the experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.


Dinah Michael