When you’re pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), the first thing the officer will do is ask for your license, registration and proof of insurance. During this initial interaction, the peace officer will be looking for signs of intoxication. He or she will pay attention to your speech. They’ll watch for signs that you’ve been drinking. They’ll look in your vehicle to see if you have any open containers of alcohol and they’ll look for signs that there’s the odor of alcohol on your breath.
If you’re displaying “signs” of impairment; for example, if you’re slurring your words, if you smell like alcohol, or if you’re otherwise acting “drunk,” the officer will ask you to step outside of your vehicle and perform a series of field sobriety tests. These are roadside tests developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that are used by law enforcement across the country to detect impaired drivers.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs)
NHTSA designed three standardized field sobriety tests, including: 1) the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, 2) the walk and turn test, and 3) the one leg stand. These divided attention tests are NOT easy to perform, even for sober people! Still, they’re standardly used to this day on DUI stops and the evidence obtained from them is used to:
- Gain probable cause to make a DUI arrest.
- Help the prosecutor secure a conviction in court.
While some argue that the standardized field sobriety tests are as much as 91% accurate at determining a driver’s impairment, there are DUI experts who believe SFSTs to be highly subjective and extremely difficult for even sober people to pass. Simple factors like weather, wind, gradation of the road, traffic, and even medications can affect a driver’s ability to perform these challenging tests.
If you’re ever asked to take the field sobriety tests, our advice is to politely decline. There is currently no penalty for refusing. If you were to take these tests, the evidence would likely be captured on the patrol car’s dash cam or on the officer’s body cam, or both. Not only that, but if you fail them (which is easy to do), the officer has probable cause to ask for a blood or breath test and initiate a DUI arrest.
Note: If you refuse a blood or breath test (chemical test), there is a penalty: your license will be automatically suspended for one year under California’s implied consent law.