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What to expect during a field sobriety test

When a Loudoun County Sheriff’s patrol car’s lights go on behind you, there is no doubt that the deputy wants you to pull over. If you’re being pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, there is little doubt that you are going to be asked to take a field sobriety test.

Let’s take a look at what occurs in a typical field sobriety test. 

We say “typical field sobriety test” because the tests have been standardized by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The tests typically contain three components:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
  • Walk-and-Turn
  • One-Leg Stand

Let’s take a look at all three, beginning with Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. A what? According to the American Optometric Association website, “Nystagmus is a vision condition in which the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements, often resulting in reduced vision.”

The condition can be a medical one, or it can be temporary as a result of impairment. A police officer tests for it by shining a light at your face to watch your eyes as they follow a pen (or other object) held by the officer and moved from side to side. If your eyes are unable to smoothly track the object, you will likely be considered to have failed this portion of the test.

The walk-and-turn exercise is to test your ability to multitask under the watchful eye of the officer. You’re typically asked to take nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, turn on one foot, and return to the starting place with another nine heel-to-toe steps.

The one-leg stand is fairly well described by its name. A suspect is asked to stand on one foot, with the other foot about six inches off of the ground. They are asked to stand in the position as they count to 30.

If they sway or have to use their arms to balance, or must use both feet to stand upright, the officer might conclude that the suspect is impaired.

If you fail the test, discuss your legal options with an attorney experienced in defending DUI suspects in negotiations and at trial. 

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