Your Guide to Field Sobriety Tests

It’s never a good idea to drink and drive, but sometimes, we understand you can get caught in an unwanted situation that you ultimately end up regretting. Nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes — some of which are bigger than others. If you are being charged with a DUI or OVI, our DUI lawyers at Probst Law Office, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio can provide you with the effective representation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation.

When you get pulled over by law enforcement under the suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they’ll likely ask you to exit your vehicle to perform some roadside tests. These roadside tests are what we call “field sobriety tests,” or “FSTs,” and they can either be standardized or non-standardized. Law enforcement uses these tests as a strategy to decide whether or not there’s probable cause to arrest an individual for a DUI (driving under the influence.)

Here is your guide to understanding field sobriety tests, and how a DUI lawyer can assist you if you are charged with a DUI.

Field Sobriety Tests: The Basics

Field sobriety tests are the roadside tests law enforcement officials conduct usually before a Breathalyzer test. Standardized Field Sobriety Tests were sanctioned in the mid-1970s by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to help police determine the sobriety of an individual behind the wheel.

There are also non-standardized field sobriety tests that aren’t specifically sanctioned by the NHTSA, but law enforcement officials will still utilize these tests during their DUI investigations.

Below, we break down additional details that are relevant to both standardized and non-standardized field sobriety tests.

What is a standardized FST?

Standardized FSTs can help determine an individual’s sobriety of testing their specific responses or reflexes. These tests are scientifically validated in a court of law and can be used as evidence against you in court.

Here are the three primary standardized field sobriety tests the NHTSA developed:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

HGN is an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs when your eye looks to the side. This is a natural jerking movement, but it is exaggerated when an individual is impaired by alcohol. Law enforcement officials will look for three indicators of impairment during this FST:

  1. An inability to smoothly follow a moving object.
  2. A distinct jerking of the eye when it is at its maximum deviation.
  3. A distinct jerking of the eye within 45-degrees of its center.


This FST is used to determine if an individual has the ability to focus enough of their attention on one simple task. Officers will ask an individual to take nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, turn on one foot, then take nine heel-to-toe steps back in the opposite direction.

One-Leg Stand

During this FST, individuals under suspicion of driving under the influence are requested to stand on one leg (about six inches off the ground) for about half of a minute. Signs of impairment include the following:

  1. Swaying.
  2. The individual using their arms to balance.
  3. Hopping.
  4. The individual putting their foot down on multiple occasions throughout the 30 seconds of counting.

What is a non-standardized FST?

Non-standardized field sobriety tests aren’t technically sanctioned by the NHTSA, but police officers will still use these tests as a means of determining whether or not an individual is under the influence when behind the wheel. These types of FSTs are not scientifically backed up by research in a court of law, and courts are less likely to accept a non-standardized FST as legitimate evidence.

Here are some common non-standardized field sobriety tests utilized by law enforcement:

  • Requesting the individual to recite the alphabet.
  • Requesting the individual to close one’s eyes and touch their nose with a finger.
  • Requesting the individual to count backward.
  • Requesting the individual to count the number of fingers an officer is holding up.
  • Requesting the individual to tip their head back while standing with their feet together.

What happens if you fail an FST?

If you fail a field sobriety test, whether standardized or non-standardized, law enforcement might have a reason to charge and arrest you for driving under the influence. However, this doesn’t mean you should just give up and accept any consequences or punishments — you can still find a way to defend yourself. The best way to protect yourself is to hire an experienced DUI lawyer to help you with your case.

For more information about DUI or OVI penalties in Ohio, learn more here.

Questions To Ask Your DUI Lawyer

Whether you are curious or have been charged with a DUI, there are a few questions we suggest asking your DUI lawyer for clarification or for your protection. Those questions include the following:

  • “Can I refuse to perform a police officer’s field sobriety test? What happens if I do?”
  • “What is the correct NHTSA procedure for conducting a field sobriety test? If law enforcement doesn’t follow this procedure, can they use an FST against me as evidence in court?
  • “English isn’t my primary language — can I ask for a translator before I agree to do my FST?”
  • “Since non-standardized tests are not legally sanctioned, can law enforcement still use these types of FSTs against me in court?”

Whatever other questions you may have about a DUI charge, our DUI lawyer at Probst Law Office will be more than happy to provide you with the assistance you need.

Choose Our DUI Lawyer at Probst Law Office

If you refused a field sobriety test or failed one, our experienced DUI lawyer can help you with your case. Probst Law Office’s attorney Michael Probst can evaluate your situation and provide you with effective legal counsel. He has more than 14 years of experience as a prosecuting and defense attorney, and in the past, he has delivered successful results for many of his clients with DUI cases.

Probst Law Office helps individuals in Franklin County and across Ohio, and we offer free consultations for first-time clients. Contact us today for your free consultation by calling (888) 223-3741 or by filling out our online form.