Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs)

The standardized field sobriety test is a series of physical exercises an officer will ask you to perform when you’ve been stopped on suspicion of drunk or impaired driving. These tests are designed to determine a person’s “balance, coordination, and the ability of the driver to divide his or her attention among several tasks at once.” (More information can be found at the NHTSA website). The exercises can include:

  • Following a pen or other small object with your eyes: The officer is looking for jerky eye movement
  • Standing on one leg for a certain length of time: The officer is looking for inability to balance without lifting arms, swaying, or putting the lifted foot down
  • Walking a straight line heel-to-toe and then turning: The officer is looking for an inability to follow instructions, maintain balance, walk a straight line, keep feet together, and stop and start when instructed.

This test isn’t like those given in school. You aren’t told ahead of time what the testing criteria will be, you aren’t allowed to study or practice, you may not even be aware that the test has already begun or ended, and you’re not told what a “passing” grade is—or even if you have passed or failed once the test has ended. In addition to the tests’ specific indicators, the officer will be looking for other signs of impairment due to drugs or alcohol, such as:

  • slurred speech,
  • clothing type and state (such as party clothes or rumpled or spilled on clothing),
  • bloodshot eyes,
  • scent-masking materials such as air fresheners or a lot of perfume,
  • attitude,
  • test refusal
  • or other incriminating statements during the tests, to name a few.

Standardized Field Sobriety Test #1:

One Leg Stand ( 4 possible clues )

1. Hopping
2. Raising arms (more than 6 inches)
3. Swaying
4. Placing foot down

Standardized Field Sobriety Test #2:

Walk & Turn (8 possible clues)

1. Stepping out of instructional position
2. Starting too soon
3. Miss heel-to-toe (by more than 1/2 inch)
4. Step off line
5. Raising arms (more than 6 inches)
6. Counting incorrect number of steps
7. Improper turn
8. Stops walking during test

Standardized Field Sobriety Test #3:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) - 6 possible clues

1. Lack of smooth pursuit – left
2. Lack of smooth pursuit – right
3. Distinct sustained nystagmus at max deviation – left eye
4. Distinct sustained nystagmus at max deviation – right eye
5. Angle of onset prior to 45 degrees – left eye
6. Angle of onset prior to 45 degrees – right eye

Even completely SOBER drivers can have trouble passing a field sobriety test!

The field sobriety tests are voluntary, although this is not often made clear during the stop. There is no legal consequence for refusing to take a field sobriety test.

It is important to note that an experienced and qualified attorney will know how to defend your case whether you passed or failed the tests or refused to take them altogether. Our attorneys have all successfully completed the same National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s IACP training to conduct Standardized Field Sobriety Tests taught to all Utah police officers at Utah’s POST Academy—and they are all qualified INSTRUCTORS to teach administering this test to others! Click here to learn about our other credentials.