Everyone has seen the dash-cam footage of suspected drunk drivers walking in a straight line on the side of the road, with police officers looking on. This is a part of the field sobriety test that occurs when police stop drivers who they believe to be under the influence of alcohol.
You may have seen the footage, but what should you expect if you find yourself in these situations?
There are three standard tests
A driver’s behavior on the road may lead police to suspect drunk driving. That would be the probable cause for pulling the driver over, but they usually need more than that to charge or arrest someone.
The police look for more signs of impairment by conducting the field sobriety test, which generally involves:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test: Officers will ask you to follow an object side-to-side with just your eyes, and look for whether the eyes move smoothly or with jerking movements.
- Walk-and-turn test: Officers ask you to walk in a straight line, turn around on one foot, and walk back. This is to check your balance and coordination.
- One-leg stand test: Officers ask you to balance on one leg while counting out loud until they tell you to stop. This also checks your balance as well as your mental processing.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that the HGN is the most reliable in determining impairment – but that rate is still only 77% accuracy. On top of that, many health conditions could affect the outcome of these tests, making them even less reliable.
Remember: You do not have to participate in these tests
In North Carolina, you do not have to submit to roadside tests. This includes:
- The standard field sobriety tests listed above
- The preliminary breath test
These tests do not fall under the rules of implied consent. Implied consent covers chemical tests, such as the more precise breath test or the blood test often conducted at the police station after an arrest.
Note: The preliminary breath test during the traffic stop is different from the breath test they might conduct at the station. It is not as precise. Refusing the breath test after an arrest at the station could lead to additional penalties.
Even if you refuse to participate in the field sobriety tests, you could still face the risk of DUI charges. It is critical to understand what to expect in these situations, so you can protect your rights.