Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

There are three standardized field sobriety tests used in Waterbury and throughout the United States when a police officer suspects that a person is driving under the influence of alcohol. On this page, we give a description of these tests and help you determine if it is better to take the tests or to decline them.


Police officers use a series of three tests to assess a driver’s balance and coordination to determine if a driver is under the influence. To establish the basis for a Waterbury DUI arrest, an officer may administer these standardized field sobriety tests and base the probable cause on the driver’s issues with balance, coordination, and the ability to focus and follow directions. These tests include the (1) Walk-and-turn test, (2) Horizontal gaze nystagmus, and (3) One-leg stand test.

Field Sobriety Tests

Walk-and-Turn Test

The first test is the walk-and-turn test, which is used to divide the driver’s attention between a physical task and a mental task in the form of following specific instructions. The test must be performed on a hard, dry, level, non-slip surface, with sufficient room for the driver to complete nine heel-to-toe steps. Before starting, the officer must give the driver the instructions and make sure that the driver understands. There are opportunities for mistakes during this test, including starting too soon, stopping at any point while walking, not touching heel-to-toe, stepping off of the imaginary straight line, losing balance, taking the wrong number of steps, and using arms for balance. The officer uses these mistakes as clues of impairment.

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Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

Next is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. It is a complicated-sounding test that essentially looks for jerking movements in the driver’s eyes. The jerking is subtle, and often the driver is unaware that it is occurring. The officer will hold something such as a pen in front of the person’s face and direct the person to follow the pen with only their eyes as the officer moves the pen slowly from side to side. The accuracy of this test could be affected by contact lenses, eyeglasses, and issues such as color blindness and traumatic brain injuries, which the officer and the driver should be aware of before performing the test.

One-Leg Stand Test

The final test is a one-leg stand test, which is another divided attention test. During this standardized field sobriety test, the driver must stand on one leg and hold the other leg up with their foot about six inches off the ground. While standing, the driver must keep their arms to the side, keep eyes on the elevated foot, and count out loud, “one thousand, two thousand,” etc., until reaching thirty seconds. There are four clues that the officer will look for, including swaying while balancing, using the arms for balance, hopping, and putting the foot down.

Help With Your DUI

Waterbury drivers should remember that after being stopped by a police officer and asked to perform these tests, you don’t have to take them and can politely decline to participate. If you have been arrested for a DUI in Waterbury, my office may be able to help.

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