Police officers may suspect a driver of being impaired if they notice erratic driving. Once stopped, the officer may ask the driver to participate in a standardized field sobriety test (SFST). These tests generally allow law enforcement to assess a motorist’s ability to follow instructions and for physical signs of impairment due to drugs or alcohol. However, the results of the tests are entirely based on the officer’s opinion and not necessarily on scientific evidence. Knowing how to pass a field sobriety test can help drivers stay out of trouble or at least minimize the impact of the test results.
How to Respond to a Request for a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST)
When an officer is asking you do take SFSTs, it may feel scary to decline the test. After all, we are taught from a young age to respect law enforcement; they are here to protect us. It is also frightening when the lights are flashing and there is an officer hovering over you. Here are some tips that most drivers do not know.
- Coordination and Difficulty. These tests are hard to pass, even for someone who is in peak physical condition and has not had any alcohol. I have been through the same training these officers go through at the academy. It is my opinion that these tests are designed so that the test taker will fail.
- Complexity. The “walk and turn test” is one of the SFSTs. One part of the walk and turn test is to see if you can walk in a straight line. If you step off the line, that is a mark against you. Sounds easy enough right? Here is the plot twist- there is no actual line. It is an imaginary line. Is this imaginary line that you are walking on the same imaginary line that the officer is grading you with?
- Voluntary Tests. The SFSTs in Washington state are completely voluntary, and officers are required by law to inform you that they are. Law enforcement has gotten clever, however, and an officer may casually ask if you would be willing to take some voluntary tests, to make sure you are safe to drive. Who would not want to prove to the officer that you are safe to drive? Just remember, however, if an officer asks you to take these tests, politely decline.
However, the following advice might help if you find yourself in a situation where you are afraid to say no to a police officer.
How to Handle a Field Sobriety Test
The day may come when you see those flashing lights as you are being pulled over. A police officer may ask you to exit your vehicle so he or she can decide whether you have committed a crime or not. Some of the following tips may help if you take the field sobriety test:
- Stay Calm. Motorists may appear to fail field sobriety tests simply because they are too nervous to react appropriately.
- Listen Carefully to Instructions. Follow the officer’s instructions exactly. This can be difficult because officers rely on dividing your attention. However, failing to do as you are told may convince the officer you are impaired in some way.
- Avoid Getting Visibly Upset. Quitting in the middle of a test because you made a small slip may confirm the officer’s suspicion that you are impaired. If you make a mistake, just keep going.
- Pay Attention to the Environment. The weather could affect your ability to pass a field sobriety test. The ground could be slippery or high winds could make it difficult to walk in a straight line.
If you are taken to a police station, immediately ask for an attorney. As the officer will tell you, “anything you say can and will be used against you.”
Know Where You Stand If You Have Taken a Field Sobriety Test
Call (425) 747-0582 for a free consultation with lawyer Sarah Cho at Peak Justice. She gladly uses her experience and training to assist clients like you. From her office located in Bellevue, Washington, Ms. Cho represents clients throughout the Seattle area.
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