If a police officer suspects you of drunk driving, he will have you perform what is called a Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) before deciding whether or not to arrest you. These tests are given to obtain validated indicators of impairment and establish probable cause for arrest.

They were developed through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and their studies show that when the tests are combined, officers are accurate in 91 percent of cases, overall, and in 94 percent of cases if explanations for some of the false positives are accepted.

In other words, if you fail all three tests, there is a presumption that you are drunk, and you will be arrested. But how do you know if you've failed?  Let's find out!  The tests are:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

This test is done when an officer holds his finger, pen, or other object 12 to 15 inches in front of your face and then moves it slowly towards each of your ears, in turn, while you follow the object with just your eyes. While doing this, he looks for three things:

  • An inability to follow the movement smoothly with your eyes
  • An inability to retain focus on the object and the jerking of the eyeball as it moves to the extreme range of peripheral vision
  • The onset of "jerking" of the eyeball before a 45 degree angle has been reached

A point is assessed for each of these characteristics for each eye for a maximum of six (6) points. Score 4 or more and you failed! However, the officer must be specially trained to conduct this test, and if he is not, the results can be thrown out by the court.

Walk and Turn (Walk a Straight Line) Test

In this test, you are directed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line.  Then you must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The officer looks for eight indicators of impairment:

  • if the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions
  • begins before the instructions are finished
  • stops while walking to regain balance
  • does not touch heel-to-toe
  • steps off the line
  • uses arms to balance
  • makes an improper turn, or
  • takes an incorrect number of steps.

If you do two (2) or more of the above, you failed!

One Leg Stand Test

In this test, you are instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (i.e. One thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put your foot down. The officer times you for 30 seconds. During this time he looks for four indicators of impairment, including

  • swaying while balancing
  • using arms to balance
  • hopping to maintain balance, and
  • putting your foot down.

If you do two (2) or more of the above, you failed!

So What Do I Do?

A successful challenge to the results of the Field Sobriety Test could make or break your case! You need an experienced lawyer to handle it! If you have been arrested and charged with drunk driving in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem or Cumberland County New Jersey, and you think you might have failed this test, please feel free to call me at 856-432-4113 or contact me through this site to schedule a free consultation in my Woodbury office.

If you are looking for more information on New Jersey's drunk driving law, then download my free book, How Much Trouble Am I In? A Guide to New Jersey Drunk Driving Law.

Related Topics

If you liked this information and found it useful, then you might like or need these others:

Steven J. Richardson
Connect with me
Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.