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What are the standard field sobriety tests?

If you ever find yourself suspected of driving under the influence, police in Wisconsin will likely ask you to participate in some roadside testing. Field sobriety tests allow officers to look at a number of things that help them determine if a person is or is not under the influence of an impairing substance.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, there are only three standard field sobriety tests. What are these tests? What are they looking for? Is participation mandatory?

Test number one: The one-leg stand

If asked to perform the one-leg stand, a police officer will essentially ask you to balance on one leg for a set period of time. You'll have to raise one foot off the ground and count for a period of 30 seconds. You cannot sway, hop, use your arms for balance or put your foot down before time is up.

Test number two: The walk and turn

This test is the one most often seen on television or in movies. If asked to perform the walk and turn, you'll need to walk a straight line a specific number of paces in a heel-to-toe manner, turn around and walk back to the starting point. This you'll need to do with your arms to your sides. Again, you cannot do anything to help you keep your balance.

Test number three: The HGN

With the horizontal gaze nystagmus, police are looking at your eye movements. When rolled to certain angles, the eyes will jerk. It is a natural movement. When impaired, this jerking motion is supposedly exaggerated. So, with the HGN, an officer will ask you to stare at his or her finger or another object and follow it with your eyes in order to check for any exaggerations to this involuntary jerking.

What are they looking for and do I have to participate?

With all of these tests, police officers are looking for specific things. They want to see:

  • If you can maintain your balance
  • If you can follow directions
  • Your physical abilities

When it comes to taking field sobriety tests, you do have a choice. You do not have to participate. However, there may be administrative and criminal consequences for refusing.

If you submit to field sobriety tests and fail or if you fail to comply with an officer's demands, it does not mean that a DUI conviction is in your future. You may end up facing DUI charges, but there may be a way to fight them.

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