Drunk Driving Roadside Tests

by GiancolaLaw on July 18, 2013

Driving under the influence is not only dangerous to the drunk driver and passengers of the vehicle, but it is also a danger to everyone on the road. If a police officer pulls someone over and has reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated the officer can ask to administer a roadside test. If you’ve ever seen a police officer administering a drunk driving roadside test you may be interested to know exactly what’s happening. Three standardized roadside tests are what officers use to determine if a driver is intoxicated or not.

1. Walk and Turn

One of the three standardized tests is the walk and turn test. This test will have the driver in question walking heel to toe for nine steps. During this time the driver’s arms must remain to their side. After the ninth step the officer will ask the driver to take a series of small steps to turn around, and walk another nine steps in the exact same manner.

While this test is underway the officer will be looking for certain signs that would indicate the driver is intoxicated. These signs include a loss of balance before the test begins, starting the test before the instructions are complete, taking more or less than nine steps, using arms for balance, and failing to walk heel to toe.

2. One Leg Stand

Another test is the one leg stand test. In this test the driver will be instructed to put both feet together with their arms and their side. Next, the driver will need to raise one leg six inches off of the ground.  The driver will have to hold their leg in the air for thirty seconds, which they will count out loud.

During this test the police officer will be looking at the driver to see if he or she is swaying or using arms to help balance. The officer will also be watching to ensure the driver doesn’t put their foot down, hop, or lose track of counting to thirty. If a police officer notices any of these actions occurring during the test it could be an implication that the driver is intoxicated.

3.  Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eyeball. Usually a person will have noticeable nystagmus when intoxicated. This is what a police officer will be looking for in the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.

To administer this test an officer will hold out a pen or finger in front of the driver’s nose. The officer will move the pen or finger from side to side and ask the driver to follow the object with their eyes only. If a driver cannot complete the test with just their eyes or has noticeable nystagmus it could be implication of an intoxicated driver.

There are other non-standardized tests that officers may use to determine whether or not a driver is under the influence. These tests would be simple tasks for a person to complete under a healthy state of mind. This could include anything from asking a driver to recite the alphabet, count how many fingers the administrating officer is holding up, count backward, etc. Keep in mind that while you are allowed to reject a roadside test it will not prohibit an officer from arresting you, taking you into custody and getting an official BAC reading.


This article was written by Molly Banton. Molly works with Minneapolis based DWI Lawyers Giancola-Durkin Criminal Defense.

Molly Banton works in marketing with Giancola-Durkin Criminal Defense

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