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What is involved in standardized field sobriety testing?

On Behalf of | Dec 9, 2021 | DUI/DWI Charges

If you get pulled over by a police officer looking to arrest you on drunk driving charges, it could help you to know what to expect. That includes what will happen if the officer orders you to get out of your vehicle and perform a series of exercises called field sobriety tests. These tests are supposed to help the officer determine if you are impaired by drugs or alcohol.

The tests to expect during a DUI traffic stop

Though every state, including Georgia, creates its own rules for what types of field sobriety tests the police should use, there is a standardized list of tests promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These include:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test. In this one, the officer will instruct you to stand up straight and look ahead of you. They will pass a finger, pen or other object across your face and tell you to follow it with your eyes. The purpose is to observe possible jerks in your eyes’ motion that allegedly show you are impaired and driving under the influence.
  • The walk and turn test. The officer will order you to walk a straight line putting each foot in front of the other heel to toe for a certain number of steps, turn around, and walk back. This tests whether your balance, coordination and ability to follow directions have been affected.
  • The one-leg stand test. The officer will tell you to stand with your feet together and arms at your sides, then have you raise one foot about six inches off the ground and count out loud for about 30 seconds. This tests your balance and ability to concentrate.

These test are controversial and critics have often questioned how useful or accurate they are. The biggest issue is that it is up to the officer to decide if a driver passes or fails. An inexperienced or incompetent officer could make a mistake that potentially sends an innocent person to jail.