Do you know what the 3 standard field sobriety tests are?

You have probably seen in movies or on television a person pulled over for suspected drunk driving, asked to walk a straight line or recite the ABC’s backward. These would be the entertainment world’s view of something that police officers in South Carolina and elsewhere do every day. Field sobriety testing is used to determine if a person is driving while under the influence. There are only three tests, though, that are the gold standard.

What are the most commonly used field sobriety tests? Are they accurate? Do you have to participate when asked to?

The standard tests

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration only recognizes the following three tests as being the most accurate:

  • One-leg stand
  • Walk and turn
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus

The one-leg stand and the walk and turn are what they sound like. With the one-leg stand, a person has to balance with one foot up in the air for a set period of time without using arms for balance or placing the foot down. With the walk and turn, a person has to walk a straight line, turn and walk back to the starting point without deviating from the line. The HGN is different in that it involves looking at a person’s eyes for signs of impairment.


While various experts believe these tests to be accurate, many disagree. The problem with these tests is that they are entirely subjective in nature. The administering officer has full say as to whether a person passes. How he or she comes to that conclusion really depends on his or her training. If watching the same individual, two police officers may come to entirely different conclusions regarding his or her sobriety.

To participate or refuse?

If you are ever pulled over for suspected drunk driving and asked to participate in field sobriety testing, you have a choice to make. You can be compliant, or you can refuse. There are consequences to either decision. At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you. Regardless, you can defend yourself if charged with drunk driving — it is your right to do so. With the assistance of counsel, achieving a case dismissal or, at least, minimizing any consequences may be possible.