When a police officer suspects a driver of a vehicle is under the influence of alcohol (DUI), the officer may request that you, the driver, perform a number of field sobriety tests to help the officer determine whether you are too impaired to drive. In almost all jurisdictions, field sobriety tests are voluntary and the driver does not have to submit to any field sobriety test. This is in direct contrast, where you are required under your state’s implied consent law, to submit to a chemical test if you have been arrested for DUI.
What are Field Sobriety Tests?
Field sobriety tests are several different cognitive or coordination tests designed to help a police officer to determine whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Contrary to popular belief, each test is not intended to be evaluated in a vacuum by the officer as pass or fail. Rather, the tests are evaluated under the “totality of the circumstances,” and the officers are looking for indicators that show impairment. There are two types of field sobriety tests. There are standardized field sobriety tests that have been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and non-standardized tests, which have not been approved by NHTSA. Officers use both to assist them in their DUI investigations.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
In the early 1980s, NHTSA set a number of standardized field sobriety tests. Officers often request that drivers they suspect to be under the influence to perform some or all of them. They include:
- The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test or HGN Test
- The Walk and Turn Test
- The One Leg Stand Test
Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
In addition, officers employ a wide variety of other types of coordination or cognitive tests to assist them in their DUI investigations. They include:
- Rohmerg Balance Test
- Finger to Nose Test
- Finger Count Test
- Hand Pat Test
- Alphabet Test
Officers often also use a roadside breath testing device to estimate the blood alcohol content in your bloodstream prior to your arrest. This is often called a field sobriety test as well.
Criticisms of Field Sobriety Testing
Many psychologists, physiologists, chemists, doctors, and criminal defense attorneys agree that field sobriety tests are a poor choice in determining whether a driver is under the influence. Critics say that they are designed to fail – that they do not accurately differentiate between drivers that are sober and those that are impaired. They often argue that sober drivers easily fail sobriety tests. They also argue that there are no standard norms or averages for sober people to distinguish against those that actually are impaired.