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Should I Agree to Complete Field Sobriety Tests—Why Not?

Aug. 10, 2022

Field sobriety tests FSTs are voluntary so you do not have to agree to complete them. Further, they may be unreliable indicators of intoxication because each police officer chooses their test and determines how they respond to a test on their own.  

An officer who pulls you over for suspicion of DUI may request that you undergo a set of field sobriety tests. It's a means of determining whether you are intoxicated. A stop by an officer is ultimately intended to obtain evidence to arrest you and charge you with drunk driving.  

The officer will usually not mention that you have the right to refuse the tests since the tests are not mandatory in any state. Only one thing is on the officer's mind, and that is to arrest you for DUI. Let's explore further below. 

What Are the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests? 

There are three tests referred to as the "standardized field sobriety tests." The purpose of these tests is to obtain evidence to arrest you for DUI. As discussed earlier, these tests are voluntary, and you do not have to take them.  

The field sobriety tests are called “standardized” because officers must administer the tests correctly. If the tests aren’t administered correctly, they will have less value. Here is a closer look at the tests: 

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN):  You follow a pen or similar object with the eyes to detect involuntary jerking.  

  • One leg stand (OLS): To check your balance, the officer asks you to raise your foot for an undetermined length of time. 

  • Walk and turn (WAT): While you walk backward and forwards on an imaginary straight line, the officer checks your balance. 

What Are Some of the Reasons for Failing Field Sobriety Tests? 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines have a set of "clues" that indicate a failure when police conduct the tests. If you show these signs, the police officer will infer that your blood alcohol concentration could be higher than the legal limit.    

An example of one leg stand clues would be: 

  1. Putting one's foot down 

  2. Swaying & hopping 

  3. Raising your arms for balance 

An example of the walk and turn clues would be: 

  1. Not touching your feet heel-to-toe 

  1. Stepping off the imaginary line 

  1. Not counting the correct number of steps 

Is It Okay for Me to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test? 

Yes, it is.  

In the end, the interpretation of the results of these tests depends on subjective judgment since not all police officers are equally competent in administering and measuring these tests. In addition, the test may be performed by the side of a busy highway in the dark. These tests can be complex for even the most athletic individuals in such a situation.  

Unhealthy people, the elderly, or those with disabilities may have difficulty standing or walking on one leg for very long. In addition to shoes, anxiety or fear on the part of the test taker can introduce another unreliable factor into the field sobriety test. 

As a general rule, field sobriety tests are engineered to fail drivers quickly, so politely declining them is the best course of action.