What are the standardized field sobriety tests?


If you are pulled over on a routine drunk driving stop and the police officer suspects intoxication, field sobriety tests may be conducted. That mean you will be “asked” to perform simple physical or cognitive tests to determine sobriety. These tets are  now called ‘standardized field sobriety tests.’ The tests are:

What is the one legged stand sobriety test?

The one-leg stand is a standardized field sobriety test that police officers use to determine if you are driving nder the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is a divided attention test, meaning you divide you attention between the mental task of following instructions and doing a physical task

To complete the one-leg stand test, you must stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground with your toe pointed. While maintaining perfect balance, you have to count by thousands (one thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) for thirty seconds. Meanwhile, your arms must remain at your side. Finally, you must look down at your foot.

The officer will observe you for two or more indicators of the following:

  1. Putting your foot down before the test is completed;
  2. Swaying while trying to maintain your balance;
  3. Hopping while trying to maintain your balance; and
  4. Using your arms to help maintain your balance.

What is the walk and turn test?’

The walk-and-turn test is a divided attention test, meaning you must divide your attention between a mental task and a physical one.  The thinking is someone who is impaired by drugs or alcohol may be able to do one taks but not two at the same time.

In the walk-and-turn test, you are instructed to take nine steps in a heel-to-toe fashion in a straight line.  After the ninth step, you then must turn on one foot and return in the opposite direction in a heel-to-toe fashion.  While you are taking the test, the officer is observing and looking for two or more of the following indicators of impairment:

  • Can you keep your balance;
  • Do you:
    • Begin walking before the officer tells you to;
    • Stop while walking in order to regain your balance;
    • Touch your feet heel-to-toe;
    • Use your arms to maintain your balance;
    • Lose your balance while turning; and
    • Take an incorrect number of steps.

What is the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test?

The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test is one of the standardized field sobriety tests.  This test refers to a quick eye movements  as it moves side to side.  This jerking motion, or nystagmus, is an indication of drug or alcohol impairment caused by the brain’s inability to properly control the eye muscles.

The officer will typically use a pen, a penlight or a finger and place it approximately twelve to fifteen inches in front of your nose and slightly higher than eye level.   The officer will move the object horizontally and direct you to follow it with your eyes while keeping your head still. While your eyes are tracking, the police officer will examine each eye for three specific characteristics that indicate impairment.  As the officer completes this test on each eye, he should make a written note of the results.

The HGN test has three characteristics:

  1.  The officer checks each eye for any jerking motion as your eyes follow the object. The thinking is that If you aren’t paired, both eyes should smoothly track from side to side.  If you are impaired, the officer will observe nystagmus or jerking of the eye;
  2. The officer checks each eye for distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation.  This means, officer first directs the left eye outward toward the left ear as far as possible and maintains this position for four seconds while checking for nystagmus or jerking of the eye.  This procedure is then repeated for the right eye.
  3. The officer checks each eye for jerking of the eyes prior to forty-five degrees between your nose and shoulder.

The HGN test is not admissible as evidence in New Jersey because it hasn’t been determined by a court to be scientifically reliable.

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