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What are the three standardized field sobriety tests?

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Posted on August 18, 2020

You may have seen police on television or in the movies giving a drunk driver a variety of field sobriety tests. Perhaps you yourself were pulled over by police on suspicion of drunk driving and were asked to perform a field sobriety test. While there are many ways police can test for inebriation, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration recognizes three standard field sobriety tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk-and-turn and one-leg stand.

Horizontal gaze nystagmus

When we are sober, our eyes naturally jerk when we look to one side or the other. However, if a person is drunk this jerking is amplified. To measure this jerking — also known as nystagmus — police will ask the driver to follow their finger or a light as it moves. Impairment can be detected if the driver can’t follow the object smoothly, if there is significant jerking when looking to one side or the other or if there is jerking within 45 degrees of the natural center of the eyes.


This test is meant to determine if a person is too inebriated to complete a task that requires them to think of more than one thing at once. Police will ask the driver to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line for nine steps, and then turn around and do the same thing in the other direction.

One-leg stand

This test is used to determine whether a person’s ability to balance has been affected by alcohol. Police will ask the driver to stand on one foot for 30 seconds. If the driver sways, hops, puts their foot down or moves their arms to try to stay on one foot, they may be impaired by alcohol.

Defending against DUI charges

These are the standardized field sobriety tests police will use to determine if a motorist is drunk. Chemical tests, such as a Breathalyzer or blood draw may also be used to determine if the driver’s blood-alcohol concentration is above the legal limit of 0.08%. Ultimately, those in the Springfield area who have been pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving and have been charged with DUI based on one of these tests will want to take the steps necessary to protect their rights and interests.