Do I have to submit to field sobriety tests?

If you’ve never been pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, you may be unfamiliar with the process and procedures associated with it. For many of us, our only knowledge of DWI stops comes from movies and television shows.

These almost always show drivers pulled over to the side of the road, standing beside their vehicle and performing field sobriety tests. Not all the tests shown by Hollywood are actually used, though. For instance, it’s unlikely that a driver would be asked to recite the alphabet backward or do any sort of mathematic calculation on the fly.

In reality, field sobriety tests are used by police to gather evidence that a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They can be an important investigative tool for law enforcement. Many drivers in this situation may assume that they have no choice but to relent and take the tests, but that might not be the case.

What are the standard field sobriety tests?

There are only three standardized tests recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These are:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) to check for involuntary jerking of the eyes
  • Walk and turn to determine if the driver can balance and can properly follow various instructions spoken by the officer on the scene
  • One-leg stand to see if the driver can balance for a set amount of time without swaying, putting their foot down, or using their arms for balance

Do I have to take them?

In most states – Texas included – drivers do not have to submit to field sobriety testing. You have the right to politely refuse, no matter how many times the officer asks or how insistent he or she is that you cooperate.

This is not the same thing as refusing to take a breath test, however. Because of our state’s implied consent laws, there are consequences for failing to take a preliminary breath test on the scene, including potential suspension of your driving privileges.

An arrest for DWI isn’t the end of the road, but you shouldn’t try to face the criminal justice system on your own. Having an ally by your side who understands the process, procedures and potential defenses can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case.