field sobriety test

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A field sobriety test helps determine if a person has been driving while intoxicated. A law enforcement officer who suspects intoxicated driving has the driver pull over to the side of the road and exit the vehicle. Afterwards, the driver performs a series of tasks that measure if the driver has the physical and mental proficiency to operate a motor vehicle, such as balance, coordination, and multitasking. 

Some examples of field sobriety tests include standing on one leg, walking in a straight line and turning, and standing straight while placing one’s finger to their nose. Loss of balance or a failure to follow directions might indicate intoxication. Nystagmus requires following a pencil or finger as it is moved from a person’s nose to about six inches away. Failure to smoothly follow the pencil or finger with their eyes is a signal of impairment. The Romberg Balance Test checks for balance and perception of time, as a person must stand straight with a tilted head and closed eyes while mentally measuring 30 seconds. While failure of these tests might not definitively prove intoxication, they are a good indication that officers should investigate further.

[Last updated in August of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]