Test Time: What to Expect From Field Sobriety Tests if You’re Pulled Over for Suspicion of Impaired Driving

If you’ve been pulled over for suspicion of impaired driving, be prepared to take some tests. At some point you may be asked to provide breath, blood, or urine samples, but before that happens you will likely face the challenge of what are known as “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests” (SFSTs). You’ve probably seen such tests portrayed in movies of TV shows, with the driver told to touch their nose, recite the alphabet or walk in a straight line.

Three Types of Tests

Police officers generally use three types of SFSTs, and they may decide to use one or all three, depending on the circumstances and the preferences of the officer. While failing to pass these tests can and likely will result in the officer requesting a breath or bodily fluid sample to determine whether you are in fact intoxicated, these field tests are notoriously unreliable indicators of an individual’s level of impairment. In fact, many people can’t pass these tests when they’re sober.

These tests are also subjective, meaning they depend on an individual officer’s interpretation rather than hard data like the kind you can get from a blood or breath test. This also means that a skilled impaired driving defence lawyer can attack the credibility and accuracy of the officer’s evaluation of the driver as part of a comprehensive defence strategy.

The three SFSTs are:

  • One Leg Stand Test. As the name indicates, the one leg stand test requires the driver to stand and balance on one leg. The individual must stand for approximately 30 seconds while keeping the non-balancing leg at least six inches off the ground and the hands close to the body.
  • Walk and Turn Test. In a walk and turn test, the officer asks the driver to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line, turn, then walk back. Many law enforcement officials use the lines painted on the road itself as the line the driver must walk. The walk and turn test is supposed to gauge an individual’s coordination, balance, and ability to follow directions.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is a complicated name for a very simple procedure. In this type of field sobriety test, the police officer shines a light – usually a penlight – into the individual’s eyes to see if the eye jerks to the side in response to the stimulus of the light. When a person has consumed a certain level of alcohol, the brain can’t control these types of minute involuntary movements.

Refusing to Take an SFST is a Criminal Offence

If an officer asks you to perform any or all of the SFSTs and you refuse to do so “without reasonable excuse,” you are committing an offence under Section 254(5) of the Criminal Code. The charges for a refusal to submit to an SFST can result in the same penalties as impaired driving.

Ottawa Criminal Defence Firm Engel & Associates Defends Against Even The Most Complicated Charges

Criminal lawyers Bruce Engel and Elena Davies have represented individuals and businesses charged with hundreds of different offences throughout Canada for more than two decades. From the start of a criminal investigation to the close of a trial, we will take a balanced and forceful approach to your defence. We have the experience and know-how to effectively navigate the constantly changing justice system in Canada.

The materials provided on this site are for information purposes only. These materials constitute general information relating to areas of law familiar to our firm lawyers. They do NOT constitute legal advice or other professional advice and you may not rely on the contents of this website as such.

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