Common questions about field sobriety tests

Field sobriety tests may be difficult to pass, even for those who did not have anything to drink.

Spring is almost here, and with nicer weather comes more people going out for drinks - and spring break. During this time, law enforcement will be extra vigilant to catch people drinking and driving before an accident occurs. In Colorado and elsewhere, field sobriety tests are common.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, law enforcement officers use field sobriety tests to measure a driver's mobility, balance and eye movements. These factors may provide clues that a driver had been drinking before getting behind the wheel. An officer may also listen to a driver's speech patterns, smell his or her breath and look at other clues in making a determination.

Unlike chemical tests, field sobriety tests rely solely on an officer's discretion. It is possible for a police officer to arrest someone for drunk driving, even if he or she had nothing to drink at all. The following points address some of the questions people may have about the accuracy of field sobriety tests.

How do officers conduct a field sobriety test?

During a field sobriety test, a driver may be asked to stand on one leg for up to 30 seconds while counting. He or she may also need to walk in a straight line and back without losing balance. Certain actions may be taken into consideration, such as whether the driver used his or her arms for balance, put the other foot down or failed to follow directions. Officers may also look at the driver's eye movements.

Can I fail a field sobriety test if I'm just nervous?

Some people may perform a field sobriety test without any problems when there is little stress or reason to worry. As NBC 29 News reported, three sober volunteers at a shopping center agreed to take a field sobriety test to see how difficult it was. They each passed, but all experienced some degree of difficulty. Two of them had trouble balancing, and the third misunderstood instructions. They all said that they might find the test more difficult to pass during a genuine traffic stop. Drivers who are afraid of being falsely accused of a crime might not follow instructions correctly or might be nervous enough to lose their balance.

If I have medical conditions that affect my walking or balance, will I fail the test?

According to ABC Action News, some people with certain physical or cognitive conditions might find the test difficult to pass or might make the officer suspect they are drunk. For example, someone with inner ear problems might lose his or her balance frequently. A driver with an injury or illness may have trouble standing or walking. A speech impediment might mimic intoxicated speech and make an officer think the driver had been drinking.


You are entitled to share your side of the story in court after a drunk driving arrest. An experienced Colorado DUI defense attorney may be able to help you show that you were not intoxicated at the time of your arrest.