Need Help With Your Traffic Ticket?

Get your FREE attorney consultation from Rosenblum Law.
888-883-5529
Call now for a free consultation

DUI/DWI Field Sobriety Tests

Trusted Content

Editorial Standards

Rosenblum Law is committed to delivering informative content of the highest quality. All content is subject to our rigorous editorial standards for relevance, accuracy, sourcing, and objectivity. Everything is fact-checked by an editor and reviewed for legal soundness by one of our practicing attorneys prior to being published.

Read our full editorial policy here

Written By 
Last updated 
July 5, 2021
man and cop sobriety test

If you are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, the police officer will administer field sobriety tests to determine whether or not you are intoxicated. Field sobriety tests are designed to test your reflexes, coordination, balance, and cognitive functioning. These tests are also used to establish probable cause to administer a chemical test, such as a blood test or breathalyzer. The results of field sobriety and/or chemical tests can be presented as evidence in court, but a defense attorney can challenge the results when fighting the charge.

The three most commonly administered field sobriety tests are the ones recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
  • Walk-and-Turn
  • One Leg Stand
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

The officer will have you follow the horizontal movement of a pen, flashlight, or finger as he moves it across your field of vision. In this test, officers are looking for twitching or jerking of the eyeball to indicate alcohol consumption and/or intoxication.

Walk-and-Turn

You will be asked to walk a certain number of steps in a line, then turn around and walk the same amount of steps back. This test measures balance; inability to walk the line steadily can indicate drunkenness.

One-Leg Stand

One-Leg Stand: The officer will ask you to stand on one leg, hold your opposite foot approximately six inches from the ground, and count for 20 to 30 seconds to observe how well you can maintain balance and follow instructions. A driver can fail this test if there is any swaying in place, hopping on one foot, holding onto something for balance, or if the foot goes down before the 30 seconds are up.

An officer might also ask a driver to count backwards, recite parts of the alphabet, or perform the Finger-to-Nose test, the Finger Dexterity Test, or the Romberg Balance Test. The Finger-to-Nose test requires you to tilt your head back, close your eyes, and bring your index finger to your nose three times on each hand. The Finger Dexterity Test involves asking you to count by touching thumb to fingers. The Romberg balance test requires you to hold your balance for about 30 seconds while standing with feet together, eyes closed, and head tilted back. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Are Field Sobriety Tests Voluntary? 

Yes, field sobriety tests are completely voluntary. The Arrest and Testing section of New York Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL § 1194) requires suspected drunk drivers to take a “breath test” and/or “chemical test” but it makes no mention of field sobriety tests. An officer cannot force you to take one, nor can they punish you for refusing. 

Keep in mind, though, that your refusal could be used against you in court to prove ‘consciousness of guilt.’ In addition, be careful that you do not become confrontational with police and remember to be respectful when you say that you do not want to perform the tests. 

Can You Refuse a Breathalyzer Test in New York? 

Under New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, “Any person who operates a motor vehicle in this state shall be deemed to have given consent to a chemical test.” Basically, you agree to blood alcohol count (BAC) testing the moment you get behind the wheel.

It is a civil offense to refuse a breathalyzer test. Refusal can result in a $500 fine, a one-year license suspension, and even jail time. And, the fine and length of suspension will be even higher for repeated refusals. 

Can a Sober Person Fail a Field Sobriety Test?

Sober drivers frequently fail field sobriety tests for many reasons. Medical conditions, such as vertigo, muscle tremors, or vision impairment, can affect a driver’s ability to perform the test.

The conditions surrounding the test can also play a big part in the results. These tests are often conducted in the dark with the police officer’s headlights shining right in one’s eyes. Road conditions may be uneven or slippery. Shoes, such as high heels, might make it more difficult to balance. 

Beyond these physical factors, being examined by a police officer in public, with all passersby to see (including your fellow passengers), is a nerve-wracking ordeal. It would be difficult for anyone to concentrate and balance while in a highly emotional state.

How to Challenge the Results of a Field Sobriety Test

An expert lawyer will be able to challenge and often prevent the results of a field sobriety test from being used as evidence. These tests can be inaccurate for a variety of reasons, including the medical and roadside conditions mentioned above. 

It is also possible to prove that the test was administered improperly. The officer might have failed to explain the test clearly, or was not properly qualified to perform the test at all. A skilled attorney will hunt down any video footage of the test, which can come from the officer’s body cam, the police vehicle’s dash camera, or nearby street cameras, in order to uncover potential testing flaws.

Video footage made all the difference in the Matter of Fermin-Perea v. Swarts. In this case, an officer pulled over the driver after observing him speeding and tailgating. The officer testified that the driver was unsteady, had bloodshot eyes, and the odor of alcohol on his breath. He administered several field sobriety tests and ordered the driver to take a breathalyzer test, which he refused. 

In court, video evidence revealed that the driver completed all the tests perfectly and did not exhibit unsteadiness or any other signs of intoxication - contrary to the officer’s testimony. Therefore, he was entitled to refuse the breathalyzer because the officer had no right to request it in the first place, as he had no “reasonable grounds'' to believe the driver was intoxicated. Field sobriety tests play an important part in establishing those grounds. 

If the court had ruled solely based on the officer’s testimony, this driver would have temporarily lost his license and paid hundreds of dollars of fines. That’s why it is essential to have an attorney who will hunt down all the evidence and successfully challenge false DWI and DUI charges. 


Who Should You Contact?

If you were charged with drunk driving (DWI/DUI) in New York, contact Rosenblum Law. Our attorneys have years of experience fighting DWI cases and obtaining excellent results for our clients. E-mail or call us today at 888-815-3649.

Author Bio

Adam H. Rosenblum

Founding Attorney Of Rosenblum Law

Adam H. Rosenblum is an experienced and skilled traffic violations and criminal defense attorney. Mr. Rosenblum provides expert and aggressive representation to those facing points on their drivers’ licenses and the associated fines and surcharges.

Read Full Bio

No Comments

Free Consultation

Call us now for a quick, free, and no obligation colustion with one of our attorneys.
888-883-5529

Featured Experts

Kent Ng

NYPD (Ret.)
Read More

Mike Gheller

NYPD Officer
Read More

Travis Hall

NY State Police
Read More

News & Updates

Learn more about traffic tickets and criminal matters in New York and New Jersey.
When I Let a Driver Off With a Warning and Why
Every driver who gets pulled over hopes to avoid getting a traffic ticket. As police officers, we understand there is...
Continue reading
Learn More
NY DWI Crackdown in Effect Through Labor Day Weekend
Drivers looking to kick back and enjoy some beers this Labor Day weekend should be careful before getting behind the...
Continue reading
Learn More
What NOT to Do When Pulled Over by Police
Nearly everyone is pulled over by police at some point in their life. The flashing red-and-blue lights are hardwired into...
Continue reading
Learn More

We've Fought Over 50,000 Traffic Ticket Cases

Call us now for a quick, free, and no-obligation consultation.
888-883-5529
Call Now ButtonFree Consult Call Now crosschevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram