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.