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What are the standardized field sobriety tests?

Trained law enforcement officers use standardized field sobriety tests during traffic stops in Massachusetts if they suspect you are impaired. Although drunk driving laws and their repercussions vary by state, officers use these three tests throughout the country to estimate an individual’s blood alcohol content. According to AAA, the goal is to establish probable cause for arrest in drunk driving cases.

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test – Officers use a moving object and observe your eyes for indications of impairment. If the eyes cannot follow the object or if they jerk during the test, it is considered likely that you are impaired.
  • One-leg stand - Directions instruct you to stand on one foot, with the other held approximately six inches off the ground, and count beginning with one-one thousand. There are four cues an officer looks for during this test, including swaying, using arms and dropping the raised foot to the ground.
  • Walk and turn test - Officers instruct you to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line. There are eight impairment indicators examiners look for, including the inability to maintain balance during the directions.

Many factors may prevent you from completing these standardized tests successfully, from age and eye conditions to disease and injuries. These tests are optional and can be highly subjective. The officer likely already suspects that you are under the influence and as a result, he or she may look for indicators that confirm this perspective.

In addition to your health and physical condition, weather conditions and the testing area can affect the outcome. Refusing to perform the drills is inadmissible in court proceedings. This means that a jury will not hear that the officer offered the tests, let alone that you refused to take them.

This is to provide you with information regarding SFST but should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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