California DUI Field Sobriety Tests
If you are pulled over by a California officer who suspects you are under the influence of alcohol, you may be asked to perform a series of exercises known as field sobriety tests, or FSTs. Unfortunately, while these activities may seem rather meaningless, they are one of the most common tools used to identify drunk drivers. As a result, you may be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) if your performance does not meet the officer’s expectations. Continue reading to learn more about California DUI field sobriety tests.
Field sobriety tests are designed to evaluate a driver’s balance, coordination, and attention based on his or her ability to perform certain tasks—such as standing on one leg and/or walking an invisible line. Although there are dozens of FSTs, only three have been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for use in determining a driver’s level of impairment: the one-leg stand, walk-and-turn, and horizontal nystagmus tests.
To perform a one-leg stand test, you must stand with one foot slightly elevated (about six inches) off the ground for thirty seconds. While doing this, you will be required to count aloud for the duration of the test. If you use your arms for balance or show other signs of impairment—such as swaying or hopping—you may be arrested and charged with DUI.
In the second test (the walk-and-turn), you will be instructed to walk a straight line with one foot placed heel-to-toe in front of the other. After taking nine steps forward, you must then pivot and return to your original starting point. Once again, if you attempt to use your arms for balance, or are unable to maintain your balance, you can expect to fail the test and be arrested for driving under the influence.
The third and final test is known as the horizontal nystagmus test. During this procedure, the officer will dangle a small object (such as a pen or flashlight) directly in front of your face to look for signs of nystagmus—an involuntary twitching of the eyes commonly seen in impaired individuals. If your eyes jerk back and forth, or you are unable to follow the object, you will most likely be deemed intoxicated.
It is important to know that while field sobriety tests are designed to help officers identify DUI suspects, their results are far from reliable. Because there are no standard criteria for determining whether a person fails or passes the tests, their results are extremely subjective. Plus, in light of the fact that the person who is grading you already suspects you are under the influence, you are even more likely to fail.
Due to the unreliability of FSTs, the tests are completely voluntary under California law. However, many drivers do not realize this at the time they are tested—which means many unwarranted arrests are made as a result.
California Breathalyzer Test Machine
Like most states, California has stringent guidelines in place to limit the amount of alcohol a person can have in his or her bloodstream when operating a vehicle. Blood alcohol content (BAC)—a percentage that reflects the amount of alcohol found in an individual’s bloodstream—is used to indicate a driver’s level of impairment. Officers rely on chemical testing methods to calculate BAC, with the most common of these tests being the California breathalyzer.
Under state law, any driver who has a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered unfit to operate a vehicle and can be prosecuted for drunk driving as a result. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule: drivers under 21 are prohibited from driving with any amount of alcohol in their system at all, while commercial vehicle operators are deemed impaired once their BAC reaches 0.04% or higher.
It is important to know that, due to California’s “Implied Consent Law,” you are required to submit to a breathalyzer or other chemical test if an officer suspects you of driving under the influence. If you refuse, you will not only be arrested and charged with DUI, but often face more severe penalties.
Unfortunately, breathalyzers are not the most accurate way of determining a driver’s level of impairment. Because the test is unable to distinguish alcohol from other chemicals, its results are often unreliable. In some cases, substances such as acetone and acetaldehyde (two common compounds found in a person’s breath) can be easily mistaken for alcohol. In fact, a recent study revealed that the average person’s breath contains over 100 substances—and the California breathalyzer falsely identified 70% to 80% of them as alcohol.
Many common medical disorders are also known to affect a person’s breathalyzer results. If you have diabetes or suffer from acid reflux disease, for example, your BAC may be inflated. Fasting, low-carb diets, smoking, or even using products such as breath mints or gum, can also produce inaccurate test results.
If you were recently arrested for DUI after failing a California breathalyzer, it is important to discuss your results with an attorney immediately. Research suggests that at least 15% of all breathalyzer tests are inaccurate—which means it’s very likely that your results could be unreliable as well.
To protect your rights and improve your chances of avoiding a drunk driving conviction, complete our online form today for a free, no-obligation consultation with a skilled DUI defense attorney in your area.