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What you need to know about field sobriety tests

Police officers in Oklahoma are constantly on the lookout for impaired drivers. If you happened to be one of their targets, they likely pulled you over and asked to perform a number of tests so they could check you for impairment. These tests are field sobriety tests.

There are three standard field sobriety tests recognized by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The NHTSA considers them highly accurate, but the simple truth is they are not perfect. Depending on the administering officer's knowledge and understanding of these tests, false positives may result, meaning you could be under arrest even though you are not drunk.

The tests and their purpose

The three standard field sobriety tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand. Here is how they work and what they are looking for:

  • The HGN: In this test, the administering officer will ask a suspect to follow an object -- usually a light, pen or finger -- with his or her eyes. While doing this, the officer will look at the jerking motion made with the eyes when they reach a certain angle. This jerking motion is natural but exaggerates when a person is under the influence of alcohol.
  • The walk and turn: In this test, an officer will ask a suspect to take a certain number of steps along a straight line, turn and walk back to the starting position. The individual performing this test must do it heel-to-toe, arms down to their sides. If that individual strays from the line or fails to follow directions, he or she will fail the test.
  • The one-leg stand: In this test, the officer asks the suspect to stand still, raise one leg and hold it for about 30 seconds. During that time, the officer will look at the person's ability to hold the position without swaying, using arms for balance, hopping or placing the foot back on the ground. The inability to hold the position may result in an arrest and DUI charge.

These tests are very basic, and they do seem simple enough to perform, but the truth is, there are a number of things, other than alcohol impairment, that can cause a person to fail one or all of the tests.

Refuse or fail?

Believe it or not, you have the right to refuse to participate in field sobriety testing; there may be consequences to doing so, though. You may lose your license and you may be under arrest anyway.

If you refused or failed field sobriety testing, it does not mean that a DUI conviction is in your future. It may be possible to fight the charge and achieve a case dismissal or at least a reduction in charges.

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