New York DWI–Overview Of Field Sobriety Tests

We all know someone who has been pulled over by the police and charged with New York DWI or another drunk driving charge such as DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired). During the course of this arrest for driving while intoxicated, the officer will request that the driver perform what are known as “Field Sobriety Tests.” The theory behind these tests, which are known as “divided attention tests”, is that a motorist who has been drinking will not be able to successfully perform them, and/or will be unable to follow the instructions given to them by the officer. The three Field Sobriety Tests that are standardized, and most commonly used, are the Walk & Turn Test, Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, and One Leg Stand. In subsequent blogs, we will go into more detail as to each New York Field Sobriety Test, but a brief description of each follows.

The Walk & Turn involves walking along a designated straight line for 9 steps heel to toe, turning in a manner directed by the officer, and then walking back along the same line for 9 steps. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus is a test in which the motorist is required to follow with their eyes a pen or pointer (known as the stimulus) as the officer moves it back and forth to determine if there is distinct jerking of the eyes (nystagmus), rather than what is known as “smooth pursuit” of the stimulus. The One Leg Stand has the driver stand with legs together and arms at their sides, then lifting one leg straight out, six inches off the ground, for a count of 30 seconds.

Numerous clues which the officer will then check for to determine if the motorist has passed these tests (on the Walk and Turn or One Leg Stand) are an inability to keep balance, using arms to balance, swaying, failing to count, simply failing to start when directed or not following instructions. Obviously these tests, although called “Standardized”, are highly subjective, as whether the person passes or fails is determined solely by an officer looking to substantiate his arrest. Further, there are numerous factors which could affect the results, including, to name a few, medical conditions that the driver might suffer from–epilepsy, vertigo, inner ear disorders; their physical condition, (such as being overweight or elderly), the side effects of medications or how much sleep the driver had the night before.


Contact the Westchester County Drunk Driving Lawyers at the Law Office Of Mark A. Siesel online or toll free at 888-761-7633 if you or a loved one has been charged with a New York DWI or other crime for a free consulation to discuss your rights and legal options.