Preliminary Breath Tests (PBT)

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A preliminary breath test (PBT) is a portable, handheld device that is used a to measure a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) by measuring the amount of alcohol you have on your breath as you exhale into the PBT. It oxidizes the alcohol in your breath as it passes over the fuel cell as it attempts to calculate the change in electrical current as it flows through the device. PBTs are normally used by police at roadside investigation where the person detained is suspected of drunk driving or DUI/OWI.
The device can only be used by someone trained and certified. The operator must take a training class and possess a valid Type I Operator’s certificate. The officer must also abide by the 15-minute rule which requires the officer to observe the suspect for at least 15 minutes prior to administering the PBT to make sure nothing has been placed into the mouth or that the person has not belched or regurgitated during that time period as any of those occurrences could throw the results of the machine off. The device must also be calibrated and maintenanced at least once a month.
The purpose of the PBT is to determine if there is probable cause to arrest the suspect. Virtually nothing good can come from submitting to the PBT as if it is .08 or above, that establishes probable cause but even if it doesn’t, the officer can still use other observations or field sobriety test results to arrest you. Refusing to take a roadside PBT is a no-point civil infraction with a fine less than $200. It is not a crime and no points will be added to your driving record. If you are under 21 and you refuse a roadside PBT, it is still a civil infraction but two points will be added to your driving record.
Do not confuse the roadside PBT with the evidential breathalyzer at the police station, known as the DataMaster. That is after you have already been placed under arrest and you will be asked to breath into the machine, usually twice. Again, the 15-minute observation period must be conducted. If you refuse to blow into the DataMaster, your license will be suspended and six points added to your driving record under the Implied Consent Law. You can contest the refusal at an Implied Consent Hearing at the Secretary of State, but those can be difficult to prevail on.
If you have been charged with OWI, consult with a Michigan OWI attorney at once.  Call Austin Legal Services, PLC at (517) 614-1983 for a free, no obligation consultation today.
Representing clients charged with OWI, DUI, and drunk driving throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Jackson, Barry, Clinton, Gratiot, Livingston, Calhoun, Kent, Shiawassee in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, Jackson, St. Johns, Bath, Ithaca, Alma, Grand Rapids, Brighton, Howell, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Haslett, Okemos, Eaton Rapids.

Field Sobriety Test: Walk and Turn

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FST– Walk and Turn (WAT)

This is the second of the three field sobriety tests that we will be discussing in detail. This one requires standardized instructions. The subject is instructed to perform nine steps touching heel-to-toe and is then told to turn around and perform the nine heel-to-toe steps again. However, a demonstration by the officer only consists of three heel-to-toe steps.


The officer is taught to look for eight clues which can off the score of the subject. They are:

  1. Unable to keep balance while listening to instructions
  2. Starting before the instructions are finished
  3. Stopping while walking
  4. Not touching heel-to-toe
  5. Stepping off the line
  6. Using arms to balance
  7. Making an improper turn
  8. Performing an incorrect number of steps

If the driver exhibits two or more clues, they fail, thus indicating intoxication.

This test requires a straight line and a reasonably dry, hard level and non-slippery surface and enough room to turn. Often a burm line or parking space line will be used if available. If the driver is wearing two-inch heels, they should be given a chance to take them off. Take as many mental notes as possible to relate to your DUI lawyer about the surrounding area. It is also best to view the place in the daytime for a more accurate observation. Again, the police report and cruiser cam videos should be carefully scrutinized to make sure the instructions were given properly and the test was administered correctly.


If you are facing an OWI, contact our Michigan OWI lawyer today at Austin Legal Services, PLC at (517) 614-1983.


Defending OWI charges throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Shiawassee, Lenawee, Jackson, Barry, Livingston, Kent, Washtenaw in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Holt, Okemos, Delta Township, Lansing Township, Jackson, Bath, St. Johns, Jackson, Hastings, Howell, Brighton, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Corunna.

Field Sobriety Tests


Lansing Michigan DUI Lawyer

Field Sobriety Tests (FST)

Field Sobriety Tests (FST) are a series of test established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to help police officers determine when a driver is at or above the legal limit of .08 blood alcohol content. They are not designed to determine impairment of the driver. Police officers nationwide administer these tests at the roadside, usually around 2:30 a.m. to motorists suspected of drunk driving. They are not without controversy however as many believe them to be unreliable and unscientific. The three standardized FST they are often administered are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk-and-Turn, and the One-legged Stand. There is also a portable device called a Preliminary Breath Test which gives a precursory reading of your blood alcohol content. I will discuss each of these in more detail.

In 1991 Dr. Spurgeon Cole from Clemson University conducted a study on the accuracy of field sobriety tests. His staff videotaped 21 people performing FST and then showed the videos to 14 police officers and asked them which ones “had too much to drink and drive.” The police officers concluded that 46% of the subjects were too drunk to drive. Unknown to the officers, all of 21 subjects in the video had a BAC of .00. According to studies conducted by the NHTSA, the Walk-and-turn only has an accuracy rate of 68% while the One-legged stand is only 65% accurate. Keep in mind that these statistics reflect when the tests are supposedly performed correctly. The accuracy rates will be much lower when not administered correctly.

It is easy to see why you should never attempt any FST. They are often not administered properly and even when they are, you will almost assuredly fail at least one of them which is enough to land you in handcuffs and an escort to the police station. They are designed for failure so do not attempt them. Ever.


Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Watch out for when the police try to have you perform FST that are not standardized, or scientifically validated, by the NHTSA. These can include having you recite the alphabet, sometime backwards (yes, they actually do that), or reciting the days of the weeks or months of the year in some mixed up order, touching your nose with your finger. These tests are not standardized nor are the officers trained to administer them, so under no circumstances should you ever attempt any of these tests. For that matter the police shouldn’t even be asking people to do them, but they do.


FAQs About Field Sobriety Tests (FST)

Can I Refuse to Take a Field Sobriety Test?

Yes and you should. This refusal has no penalty and cannot be used against you. Virtually no good can come from taking the FST as undoubtedly you will fail one or all of them. By taking them you are only arming the government with more evidence against you so you should always politely decline. Refusing the roadside Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) is a no-point civil infraction with a fine running between $100-200. Do not confuse this with the DataMaster breathalyzer at the police station. Refusing any chemical tests at the police station has serious penalties and consequences.


If I Pass All the FST, Can They Still Arrest Me?

Yes, if the are other factors that the officer can articulate that suggest intoxication. These can include: a strong odor of intoxicants, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, disoriented as to time and place, lack of coordination, weaving while driving, being slow to respond to questions or requests, fumbling for your driver’s license or registration, admitting to drinking alcohol. This is another good reason why to refuse to take the FST because even if you pass (which is rare) it still doesn’t mean you’re home free. Keep in mind that you only have to fail one FST to establish probable cause for the police to arrest you.


Can Refusing a FST or a PBT be Used Against Me in Court?

No. At least, not usually. Refusing to perform a FST will almost never be used at trial, especially as evidence of your guilt. The PBT refusal is usually not allowed to be brought into evidence at trial, but it can if the defense raises the defense of a rising blood alcohol content (the BAC was higher at the police station than the roadside, thus meaning that maybe your BAC was below the legal limit at the time of driving) or if the defense contends they were never offered a PBT. Other than that, your refusal has no penalties and cannot be used against you.


If you have been charged with OWI you need an experienced attorney representing you. Call Austin Legal Services, PLC today at (517) 614-1983 to speak to a Michigan OWI Lawyer about your case.

Representing OWI Clients throughout Michigan in the counties of: Ingham, Eaton, Jackson, Livingston, Shiawassee, Kent, Clinton, Barry, and Gratiot and in the cities of: Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, St. Johns, Bath, Ithaca, Charlotte, Jackson, Brighton, Howell, Corunna, Grand Rapids.