Field Sobriety Tests: When Your License Depends on It


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You know what Field Sobriety Tests are. Some people may even think they can beat them while impaired. What's the standard? What is the officer looking for during a DUI field sobriety test? Do the tests even work?

field sobriety test when your license depends on it

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What's the Procedure?

The officer will ask you for your license and registration.


  • Remain calm, have your papers ready, and keep your hands on the steering wheel.

If the officer suspects you of drunk driving, he or she will ask you to exit the vehicle.

  • Do not exit your vehicle unless you are told to do so.

At this point, the officer will either ask you to perform a physical field sobriety test or a chemical test.

  • You can refuse both of these tests, but you'll have to check your state laws to see what penalties are associated with refusal.

The Field Test

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) are simple tests of balance and coordination. Developing in partnership of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Southern California Research Institute, the three tests are:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

The officer will instruct you.

  • Follow a stimulus (pen, flashlight, finger, etc.) with your eyes only.
  • Do not move your head.

They are looking for...

  • Fast, uncontrollable eye movements.
  • Deviation in gaze.
Walk-and-Turn (WAT)

The officer will instruct you.

  • Do not start until you are instructed.
  • Align your left and right foot so your right heel is touching your left toe.
  • Keep your hands by your side.
  • Take nine heel to toe steps on the line.
  • Turn keeping one foot on the line.
  • Return in nine heel to toe steps.
  • Count the steps aloud.

They are looking for...

  • Inability to balance.
  • Starting too soon.
  • Stopping while walking.
  • Missing steps heel to toe.
  • Deviation from the line.
  • Use of arms for balance.
  • Improper turn.
  • Incorrect number of steps.
One-Leg Stand (OLS)

The officer will instruct you.

  • Do not start until you are instructed.
  • Stand with heels together and arms at side.
  • Raise one leg six inches off the ground in front of you.
  • Holding the position, count out loud until you are told to stop.

They are looking for...

  • Swaying.
  • Hopping.
  • Putting a foot down.
  • Use of arms for balance.

In addition to SFSTs, there are two tests that officers may also use:

Romberg Balance Test

This tests balance and time perception.

The officer will instruct you.

  • Stand with heels together and arms at side.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Tilt your head back.
  • Hold for thirty seconds.
Finger-to-Nose Test

Tests balance and coordination.

The officer will instruct you.

  • Stand with heels together and arms at side.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Tilt your head back.
  • Touch nose with the tip of your right and left index finger.
  • These tests are not a part of the NHTSA's standards, so they often hold less weight in court.

If the officer suspects you of drunk driving, he or she will ask you to submit to a chemical test and most likely, place you under arrest.

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