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Frequently asked questions about field sobriety tests

On Behalf of | Jan 3, 2020 | Uncategorized |

Like the rest of the nation, the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit in Minnesota is .08%. And while a roadside breath test might measure your BAC accurately, police officers often revert to field sobriety tests to determine whether they should arrest you for drunk driving.

Below are just three common questions you may have should an officer pull you over and ask you to perform a field sobriety test.

What is a field sobriety test?

A field sobriety test is a way for a police officer to assess your level of intoxication from a physical standpoint. Some officers may ask you to recite the alphabet, while others may require you to count your fingers forwards and backwards. However, there are only three standardized tests authorized by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). They include:

  • Walk-and-turn — Tests your ability to walk in a straight line, toe to heel, and turn around without falling over.
  • One-leg stand — Assesses how well you can balance on one leg for 30 seconds without using your arms for support.
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus — Tracks how smoothly your eyes are able to follow an officer’s finger without making jerking or bouncing movements.

Do I have to take it?

Many people are unsure of their rights in this situation. If a police officer asks you to perform a field sobriety test, you have the legal right to refuse. Police use field sobriety tests to determine whether they have probable cause to arrest you for drunk driving, so submitting to one might incriminate you.

Unfortunately, refusing a field sobriety test often provokes an officer into arresting you anyway. They will likely take you in for breath, blood or urine testing, which you must submit to under Minnesota’s implied consent law.

Still, the benefits to refusing a field sobriety test outweigh the drawbacks. If your chemical test shows your BAC was below the legal limit, there are no consequences. If your chemical test shows your BAC was over the legal limit, a police officer cannot use a failed field sobriety test as evidence against you.

What happens if I fail?

If you do take a field sobriety test and an officer deems you unfit to drive, don’t worry. While they may use it as evidence against you, field sobriety tests are notorious for being inaccurate ways of determining someone’s level of intoxication.

Physical disabilities, age and nervousness can make even the soberest of drivers fail a field sobriety test. Even though police often rely on field sobriety tests, people generally see them as unreliable and outdated.

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