What Happens During A California Field Sobriety Test

California DUI lawyers can help all California drivers who have been arrested for DUI. California laws make it illegal for any driver to drive “under the influence” or DUI of any alcoholic beverage or drug. California DUI laws consider drivers DUI if they are “unable to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances”. California field sobriety tests provide officers with the tools to identify drivers who are DUI and are best used to determine if a driver is driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher- which is illegal in every state.

Drivers who are arrested for a California DUI should contact a DUI attorney in California. Failing to get adequate DUI help can result in stiff California DUI penalties including:

  • High fines
  • Jail time
  • Installation of an Ignition Interlock Device
  • Mandatory drug and alcohol counseling
  • High insurance cost
  • Driver’s license revocation or suspension

Field Sobriety Testing Process in California

Standardized in the late 1970s by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with the help of the Southern California Research Institute, field sobriety tests have become a valuable tool for law enforcement officers through out the United States. Although not 100% accurate, field sobriety tests do provide additional evidence of DUI and can help a California police officer establish probable cause for a DUI arrest. Field sobriety testing accuracy is increased if the officer:

  • Uses the proper field sobriety testing procedures outlined by the NHTSA
  • Evaluates the field sobriety testing results correctly with the NHTSA testing criteria

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

California police officers can use the HGN or the horizontal gaze nystagmus to test a driver’s nystagmus or thecongenital or acquired persistent, rapid, involuntary, and oscillatory movement of the eyeball”. Nystagmus is common in all drivers but intoxicated driver’s nystagmus is more exaggerated. For the HGN test the officer is evaluating the following NHTSA criteria:

  • The California driver’s ability to follow an object smoothly
  • If the Nystagmus is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation
  • If the angle of onset of nystagmus is prior to 45 degrees

For the HGN test, the California officer will ask the driver to follow an object, most often a small flashlight or pen, as the officer moves it slowly in front of the driver’s face from left to right. Sober drivers should be able to trace the outline of the object with their eyes (holding their head steady) with a smooth, coordinated motion.

Certain medications, inhalants or barbiturates can interfere with the tests. Additionally, drivers who have a congenital eye defect, neurological condition, extreme fatigue or severe head trauma may also not be able to successfully finish the HGN test. The NHTSA has determined through their research that this test is 88% accurate if sufficient clues are identified.

Walk the Line Test

The walk the line test is the second component of the California field sobriety test, and it is used to determine a driver’s cognitive and physical capabilities while performing a series of simple tasks. Drivers are first asked if they have any back, head or neck injuries which would make it difficult to complete this test. Drivers are than asked to stand straight with their head forward and their arms to their sides. California drivers must take 9 steps down a real or imaginary line, turn and walk back. All of the steps should be made heel to toe, and the driver should keep their arms to their sides. The NHTSA has outlined the following criteria to evaluate a driver’s performance:

  • · Did the driver step off the line?
  • · Did the driver wait to start the test until the California officer completed the instructions for the test?
  • · Did the driver maintain their balance as the instructions were read or did they fall, hop or sway?
  • · Did the driver walk the correct number of steps?
  • · Did the driver walk heel to toe?
  • · Did the driver turn properly?
  • · Did the driver stop before the test was completed?
  • · Did the driver use their arms for balance?

The walk the line test should be performed on a flat, dry surface. The California driver should be allowed to remove any foot wear which could hurt the testing results. The NHTSA has determined that 79% of drivers who fail two or more testing criteria will have a BAC of 0.08% or higher.

One Leg Stand Test

California drivers may also be asked to perform the one leg stand test, which like the walk the line test, is a test of the driver’s ability to complete simple mental and physical tasks. For the one leg stand test, the California driver is asked to stand straight, head forward and arms to their sides. The driver must raise one of their feet 6 inches off the ground for approximately 30 seconds. The California police officer will evaluate the driver on the following NHTSA criteria:

  • · Did the driver stay balanced with out swaying back and forth?
  • · Did the driver have to jump or hop to stay balanced?
  • · Did the driver have to put their foot down before the test was completed?
  • · Did the driver have to use their arms to maintain their balance?

In Conclusion

California field sobriety tests are a valuable tool for law enforcement officers to establish probable cause for a DUI in arrest in California. They are not perfect, and officers can make mistakes and misinterpret the DUI testing results. California drivers who have failed a California field sobriety test need DUI help from a California DUI lawyer. Failing a field sobriety test, refusing to take a field sobriety test or being arrested for DUI in California can have severe penalties. Contact a DUI California lawyer for more information about your DUI arrest.