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Field sobriety tests may not be what you think

You were pulled over, and now you expect to face a breath test. You're surprised when you agree to the test only to be asked to step out of your vehicle. What's going on?

Field sobriety tests do not include the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test, which is also known as the Breathalyzer test. Field sobriety tests actually come before a Breathalyzer test in most cases. These tests are also known as roadside sobriety tests, primarily because they are performed out of the vehicle and on the side of the road.

An officer asks a person to perform these tests to determine if the person is balanced, can pay attention or has certain physical abilities. If someone fails a roadside sobriety test, he or she will be tested for a DUI using a Breathalyzer in most cases.

Officers record the person's performance on the field sobriety tests so that they can be used as evidence in a DUI case. On the whole, sobriety tests give officers what they need to arrest someone with probable cause.

The three tests used most commonly are called the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn and the one-leg stand. The first test tracks the jerking of the eye, which is also known as the nystagmus. The nystagmus is exaggerated when a person is impaired with alcohol. The second test, the walk and turn, tests the subject balance and ability to complete a test while following instructions. The third, the one-leg stand, also helps check the person's balance and ability to hold his or her foot off the ground for around 30 seconds.

If you fail one of these tests, it doesn't necessarily mean you're intoxicated. You can use that in your defense if you end up facing a charge.

Source: FindLaw, "Field Sobriety Tests," accessed July 28, 2017

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