It can be a terrifying moment, getting pulled over, knowing you had a few drinks earlier in the evening. While you might have felt ok to drive, you do not know if the officer (and their tests) will determine you had too much.
As an officer makes their first assessments, they will often ask you to perform a field sobriety test. In some cases, they can seem like the ones you see on TV, but others may be more of a mystery.
Here are the three most common field sobriety tests that officers use.
One of the most well-known field sobriety tests is the walk-and-turn test. An officer will ask you to take nine steps heel-to-toe on a straight line, turn on one foot and return nine steps. While you are performing the test, officers will look for signs you are impaired, such as:
- Taking the wrong number of steps
- Losing balance
- Using arms to balance
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, if you exhibit two or more indicators, there is a 68 percent likelihood you have a blood alcohol content level of 0.10 or more.
One-leg stand test
For the one-leg stand test, an officer will ask you to raise one foot six inches off the ground and count slowly (one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two and so on) until the officer tells you to stop. While you are performing the test, the officer will look for signs of impairment, like putting your foot down or using your arms to balance.
The challenge with both the one-leg stand test and the walk-and-turn tests is that some people will still fail them, even if they are sober.
Horizontal gaze nystagmus
The horizontal gaze nystagmus test tends to be more reliable than the other tests because it tests the involuntary reactions of your eye while following an object from side to side. Most of the time, if you are intoxicated, your eye will jerk at certain phases of the test.
What are they looking for?
In general, officers are looking at the different components of the test and how you complete them. For example, you may be able to complete the walk and turn test, but an officer will look for things like stumbling or swaying while you are walking.
Keep in mind that when an officer asks you to perform a field sobriety test, they are typically looking to confirm what they already believe to be true. In most cases, they have observed other characteristics like glassy eyes or slurred speech that lead them to believe you were driving while intoxicated.
While you can legally refuse to take a field sobriety test, it will not exempt you from other testing to confirm whether you have had too much to drink.