Are You Required to Take a Field Sobriety Test?

It's late, and you're driving down the highway, headed home for the night, when you see blue and red lights flashing behind you. Before long, you realize the flashing lights are intended for you, and a police care is urging you to pull to the side of the road. Best case scenario: He's just pulling you over to wish you a good evening before sending you on your way. Worst case scenario: He suspects that you're impaired and is intent on proving it.

When a police officer pulls you over because he suspects you're driving impaired, one of the first things he'll do is ask you to take a field sobriety test. As the officer approaches the car, you're nervous and sometimes are not thinking straight, even if you're perfectly sober. Being so nervous, you may assume that you have to submit to the field sobriety tests, but that's simply not the case. Before agreeing to this, it's important to understand a few basic facts about these tests as well as your rights.

What are field sobriety tests?

If you've never taken one, you may be wondering what exactly a field sobriety test is. If a police officer suspects that you're intoxicated in any way, you may be subjected to any of a variety of different tests that are intended to determine (unofficially) whether or not you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These tests range from walking and turning, to standing on one leg, to the horizontal gaze nystagmus assessment in which the officer shines a penlight past the driver's eyes.

What if you refuse a field sobriety test?

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, police officers do not always explain to people that they are not obligated by law to take field sobriety tests. When confronted with the prospect of taking one of these tests, it can feel like you have no choice but to do it. That's not really the case.

A police officer may not force anyone to take a field sobriety test, so you can likely (but not always) refuse the tests without any immediate consequences. That being said, it is important to keep in mind that if there is other observable evidence of impairment, a refusal to cooperate can provide evidence when it comes time to build a DUI case against you.

What happens if you agree to a field sobriety test?

After you undergo the three field sobriety tests, the officer will often read you an implied consent notice, after which you will be asked to agree to a chemical test to measure the drug or alcohol level in your system. A breathalyzer test is the most common method of doing this, but, in some cases, a blood or urine sample may be taken at a medical facility or detention center. If your levels are found to be above the legal limit, you will likely be considered to be intoxicated.

The implied consent law states that if you are arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you are required to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test when you reach the police station or jail. If at this point you refuse to submit to these tests, your license may be immediately suspended for up to one year, depending on your state's laws.


So, if you find yourself in a situation where you've been pulled over, gather your thoughts as best you can, stay calm, and prepare to make a rational decision. This can be easier said than done, but remember that field sobriety tests are not mandatory, and refusing to submit to them is well within your rights.

However, be just as aware that other tests, such as breathalyzers and blood and urine samples may also be requested. These chemical tests are a fairly reliable gauge of blood-alcohol level, but they are far from perfect tests.

If you find yourself in a situation where you've been arrested for refusing any of these tests, or feel you were unlawfully coerced into submitting to them, it's probably a good idea to contact an attorney with experience in DUI cases. Sometimes just having an understanding of your rights can make all of the difference when you see those flashing lights in your rearview mirror.

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