Field sobriety testing is a common tool used by law enforcement officers to determine if a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
However, these tests are not always accurate, and drivers should be cautious about agreeing to them because they generally only serve as a method for an officer to establish probable cause for an arrest. The odds of field sobriety testing clearing you of any suspicion, in fact, can be very slim.
What are field sobriety tests, anyhow?
Field sobriety tests typically involve a series of physical and cognitive tests that are designed to assess a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. These tests can include the one-legged stand test, the walk-and-turn test, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.
While these tests may seem straightforward, they can be difficult to perform even when a driver is sober. A number of things that are outside the driver’s control can interfere with their ability to complete the tests to an officer’s satisfaction.
For example, an inner ear condition or even allergy medication can cause a driver’s eyes to “jump” erratically when they’re trying to perform the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Age and nerves can make it hard for a driver to perform the one-legged stand test. Distractions from traffic and anxiety can affect their ability to follow directions on the walk-and-turn test.
Worse still, all of these tests are judged subjectively. That means that an officer who already believes that you’re impaired by drugs or alcohol may subconsciously decide that you “failed” the test – even if you didn’t.
What’s the bottom line?
Ultimately, you have no obligation to submit to field sobriety testing. Unlike chemical tests that evaluate your blood alcohol content (BAC), there’s no legal penalty for refusal. In practice, if you refuse to engage in field sobriety testing, an officer who believes you are impaired will probably still find probable cause to arrest you. However, your refusal to comply with testing isn’t as problematic in court as a body cam or dash cam video of you trying to complete the test and failing.
Because a drunk driving conviction can have serious collateral and legal consequences, it’s always wisest to seek legal guidance if you’ve been charged with impaired driving to fully explore your defense options.