What are the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?


When a law enforcement officer stops your vehicle, there are several factors that may lead to a suspicion that you may be driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI). In such cases, there are several kinds of tests that an officer may request you undergo in order to try to gather evidence of your potential intoxication and have probable cause to lawfully place you under arrest.

For example, an officer may ask you to submit to a Breathalyzer test or a blood draw to test your blood alcohol content (BAC) level. In other situations, an officer may request that you undergo a number of tests at the traffic stop referred to as field sobriety tests (FSTs). You will have to step out of your vehicle and these tests generally take place on the side of the road.

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

FSTs are divided into two main categories: those approved as “standardized” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other non-standardized tests. Non-standardized tests are not deemed as reliable in testing intoxication levels and therefore are not used as often. Such non-standardized tests include asking you to recite the alphabet backwards, count backward, touch your nose, or pick up objects from the ground.

On the other hand, standardized FSTs are commonly used by law enforcement in Colorado. The three standardized tests are as follows:


  • Walk and turn — This test requires that you walk nine steps–heel to toe–in a straight line, then turn on one foot and walk nine steps in the opposite direction.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus — This FST involves an officer moving an object, such as a small flashlight or writing utensil, in front of you from one side to the other. You are expected to only use your eyes to follow the path of the object as the officer observes subtle eye movements.
  • One-leg stand — This type of test requires you to raise one foot a short distance of the ground and balance on the other leg. While balancing, you will be asked to look down at your foot and count to thirty.

These FSTs are meant to test not only your balance and physical coordination, but also your ability to follow specific instructions and other cognitive functioning. Officers are often called in to testify regarding your FST performance as evidence that you were intoxicated.

The accuracy of FSTs in determining intoxication levels has long been questioned and an experienced criminal defense attorney will have many tactics to challenge the officer’s testimony. For example, if the officer was not properly trained in the standardized field sobriety tests or if the officer did not administer the test correctly, an attorney may have evidence related to the test thrown out.

Contact an Experienced Denver DUI Defense Lawyer for Help Today

If you have been arrested on suspicion of DUI, you should always seek the assistance of an experienced DUI defense attorney whether or not your underwent FSTs or chemical testing. Please do not hesitate to call the Denver office of the Tiftickjian Law Firm to discuss your case today.

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