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Understanding Field Sobriety Tests

If a police officer sees a car driving erratically and suspects that the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or another drug, the officer may stop the car and request the driver to take a series of field sobriety tests.

What is a field sobriety test?

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) believes that only three tests are useful in proving that a driver is impaired. These three tests, taken together, make up the standardized field sobriety test that is used through the United States:

  • The one-leg stand ― the driver is asked to stand on one leg, counting by thousands (one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, etc.) until the police officer tells the driver to stop
  • The walk and turn ― the driver is asked to take nine steps using a heel-to-toe pattern, turn around, and take nine steps back in the same manner
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus ― the driver is asked to keep his or her head still while attempting to follow a moving object with his or her eyes

The Alabama Department of Forensic Scientists permits these tests only to be performed by Alabama law enforcement officers. For each test, there are specific clues that show that the driver may be under the influence. An officer must be trained in how to administer these tests and how to evaluate the results.

The standardized field sobriety test is only about 65% accurate and, therefore, failing it does not mean that you are impaired. Drivers are more likely to have a false positive result if they are middle-aged or older, are overweight, were just injured in an accident or have other health problems.

Can I refuse to take a standardized field sobriety test?

In Alabama, you cannot be forced to take any roadside test. However, if you refuse, the officer may require you to go to the police station or a nearby hospital and take a Breathalyzer or a blood test to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If you refuse to cooperate with either of these tests, your license may be suspended for a year.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence in Alabama, you need to speak to an attorney who is experienced in DUI cases immediately. Your attorney will explain the next steps in the process and help you determine how you can refute the charges.

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