Should You Take A DUI Field Test?

Davis-Jones Law Aug. 4, 2020

When you’re pulled over on the suspicion of a DUI, you may be asked by the police officer to take a “field sobriety test.” (We’ll explain exactly what these are in just a moment.)

Frequently, those who are arrested for drunk driving really think they passed their test, and are surprised when the police nevertheless puts them in cuffs. The reason for this is simple: These tests are not actually designed to help you prove your innocence. Frankly, they are designed to make you appear guilty. Even those who are totally sober can sometimes fail these field sobriety tests.

So what should you do if you’re asked to take one? We’ll give you our advice below—but first, let’s take a quick look at what field sobriety tests are and why they are so flawed.

What are DUI Field Tests?

Law enforcement officers all over the country are trained in field tests—quick “drills” they can run when they pull someone over on the suspicion of drunk driving.

What you might not realize is that these drills are not administered on a pass/fail basis. Instead, they are designed to make you show some of the “cues” of intoxication. Again, this can be true even when you are totally sober. The officer on the scene is then instructed to write down any cues that they see.

Field sobriety tests come in a few different forms, and it’s smart to be aware of all three of them.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

Nystagmus is a medical term; it basically means the jumping of the eye. This is the test where the officer will move around a stimulus—like an ink pen, or sometimes just their index finger—and ask you to follow it with your eyes. If your eye jumps, the officer will write it down as a possible sign of drunkenness, even though there are actually dozens of possible reasons why your eye might jump.


Another common drill is the one where the officer will ask you to perform various actions—possibly walking in a straight line, then turning at a certain point. The problem is that the officer will usually bark rapid-fire instructions and expect you to instantly memorize them—tough to do even when you’re sober, especially if you’ve just been pulled over and are feeling a little frazzled.

Standing on One Foot

Finally, a common field sobriety test is when you’re asked to balance on one foot and count to 20, or sometimes even higher. Again, there are some obvious problems—anyone could struggle with balance, even if they’ve never had a drink in their life.

Know Your Rights

These tests are not really designed to help you, which is why we would generally advise against taking them. You have every right to politely say no when the officer asks you to take one of these tests, as they can really only harm you.

To be clear, you may also be asked to take a different test (for example, a breathalyzer). You can decline one of these tests if you wish, but that will likely result in the officer taking you to the station for a blood draw. Be aware of this likely outcome.

With all of that said, people get arrested for DUIs often, and it’s not always just. If you feel like you were arrested on the grounds of a deceptive field sobriety test, hire a lawyer who can work to exonerate you. Contact Davis-Jones Law in Austin to find out more about our services representing DUI cases throughout the area.