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What you need to know about field sobriety tests

When the police pull you over on suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs (OWI), you can be sure that they will ask you to take a field sobriety test, and likely a breathalyzer. However, not many people know what these tests entail and whether or not you are legally required to take them.

The amount of Michigan dwellers who report driving after drinking more than they should is the same as the national average, which is why it is important to educate yourself on field sobriety tests. If you are even in a situation where the police pull you over, you will know whether you need to take the field sobriety tests, or just the chemical tests.

What is it?

The field sobriety tests are the alternative to chemical testing, used by law enforcement to judge if you are impaired. While there is controversy as to whether these tests are as accurate as chemical testing, due to police officers using their own judgement, studies show that when all three tests are used together, police have an 82 percent accuracy rate.

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus: The police will look at your eyes to see if there is an involuntary twitching or jerking motion, which happens when an individual is intoxicated.
  • Walk-and-turn: An officer will direct you to walk down and back, looking to see if you are able to complete the task as asked, as well as how much concentration it takes for you to comply.
  • One-leg-stand: You will be asked to stand on one leg for a period of time, and the police will look to see how much you sway, hop or need your arms for balance.

Do you have to take the test?

It is your choice on whether or not you perform the three field sobriety tests. Even if the police suggest that it is not an option, there is no legal requirement that you take the tests. However, if you refuse they will likely ask you to perform a breath test. Chemical testing is not an option, as Michigan is an implied consent state. This means that by driving, you have already consented to chemical testing if the police pull you over on suspicion of an OWI.

Having the police pull you over can be scary, especially if you do not know your rights. Knowing what the field sobriety tests are and that you have the choice on whether you want to take them may help you feel calmer.

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