What are roadside sobriety tests?

On Behalf of | May 16, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

You’re driving home after a long night at work – or maybe dinner with your friends when flashing blue and reds appear in your rearview mirror. You’re pulled over, and it doesn’t take long before it’s clear that the officer thinks you’re driving under the influence. The next thing you know, the officer asks you to step outside the vehicle and participate in a series of roadside field sobriety tests. 

Here’s something you need to know: Even though the officer’s request probably sounds a lot like a demand, you’re under no obligation to comply with this request. You can – and should – politely decline.

Standardized roadside sobriety field tests are designed to fail

There are three roadside field sobriety tests that are considered “standard” by most police departments and they’re all prone to flaws:

  1. The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test: This involves tracking the officer’s penlight or another small object with your eyes without moving your head while the officer looks for involuntary jerking movements. The involuntary movements can indicate intoxication – but they can also be a sign of fatigue, inner ear problems, dry eyes and a host of other conditions. 
  2. The walk-and-turn test: You’ll be asked to walk heel-to-toe along the road in a straight line, then turn and walk back again while the officer judges your balance. Judgements can be subjective, at best, and everything from a bad back or bad shoes and uneven ground can cause balance problems, especially in older individuals.
  3. The one-legged stand tests: This is another balance test, where you’ll be asked to stand on one leg for a period of time without losing the position. Many people, especially those with bad knees or other musculoskeletal issues, cannot do this to an officer’s satisfaction on a good day.

Roadside field sobriety tests tend to work against drivers, even when the driver is 100% sober. Because officers have usually made up their minds before they ask a driver to participate, that tends to color their opinions. There’s no legal penalty for refusal, and doing so will oblige the officer to justify a deeper investigation into your sobriety some other way.

If you are charged with driving under the influence, immediately invoke your right to remain silent and focus on securing a solid defense.