Roadside Field Sobriety Tests for DUI

Roadside Field DUI Sobriety Test

In New Jersey, law officers implement roadside field sobriety and breath analysis tests to determine intoxication of an individual operating a motor vehicle. If an officer has probable cause to pull you over for suspected drunk driving, and sees evidence indicating you are intoxicated, he may conduct a field sobriety test. As New Jersey DUI Lawyers, we are well-versed in the different standard field sobriety tests that the police officers in New Jersey use to formulate probable cause for a DWI arrest. Below, we have provided many of the relevant tests that you may encounter on the roadside during a DWI stop.

Features of a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST)

The National Highway and Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has published guidelines for three approved tests, known as standardized field sobriety tests (SFST).

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

Nystagmus is the involuntary jerking of your eyeballs. This motion becomes more apparent when an individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or both. The officer requires that you follow a small object, like a penlight, with your eyes while keeping your head still. While administering this test, the officer observes your eyes while he moves the object back and forth horizontally. He is looking for three cues in each eye that suggest intoxication. If he identifies four out of the six cues he may arrest you for DWI.

  • The onset of the involuntary jerking before your eye reaches 45 degrees from the center (near the shoulder blade)
  • Prominent involuntary jerking of your eyeball when it is all the way to the side
  • The inability to smoothly follow the object with your eye

One-leg Stand

You are instructed to stand with your feet together and your arms at your sides. The officer directs you to lift one foot about 6 inches off the ground with your toe pointed out and count out loud by the thousands. The officer must direct you not to sway, hop or use your arms for balance. The officer is looking for two of four impairment cues.

  • You noticeably sway side to side or back and forth while balancing
  • You raise your arms at least 6 inches for balance
  • You hop to maintain balance
  • You put your foot down


The officer instructs you to stand on a line with your feet in the heel-to-toe position with your arms at your sides, listening to his instructions and do not begin until he directs you to. He instructs you to take 9 heel-to-toe steps along the line and count the steps out loud while watching your feet; then turn and walk back in the same manner. He is looking for four of eight cues that signify impairment.

  • Loss of balance during instructions
  • You start walking before he finishes explaining the instructions
  • You stop while walking to steady yourself
  • You miss the heel-to-toe touch by at least a half inch
  • You step off the line
  • You extend your arms by at least six inches for balance
  • Loss of balance while walking or turning
  • You take the wrong number of steps

Sample Non-standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Officers may also administer additional non-standardized tests to determine your physical and cognitive abilities.

  • Identify how many fingers the officer is displaying to you
  • Count backwards from 100
  • Rhomberg stationary balance test – stand with your feet together and tip your head backwards , holding your arms straight out to the sides, while maintaining your balance
  • Recite all or part of the alphabet
  • Finger to Nose – Close your eyes and touch your finger to your nose
  • Hand-pat test – extend one hand out in front of you, palm up. Place your other hand on top of the first hand, palm down. Pat your lower hand with your upper hand, rotating first palm down, then palm up, and repeating the rotation while continuing the patting motion.

Implied Consent

In New Jersey, as a licensed driver, you give consent to submit to a test to determine your blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, if you are arrested for DWI. This is referred to as implied consent. New Jersey Statute 39:4-50.4a is the state’s “Refusal Statute.” This means if a law officer arrests you for drunk driving and you refuse to take a requested breath test, your driver’s license will be revoked.


The breath test for determining your BAC in New Jersey is the Draeger Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C. If you are arrested for DWI, before requesting that you take a breath test, the officer is legally required to read a “Standard Statement” informing you that the Alcotest is mandatory, that you will receive a summons if you refuse, and what the basic refusal penalties are.
If you don’t give the officer clear consent or give stipulations for taking the breath test, he must read an “Additional Statement.” This warns you that if you do not unconditionally agree to the test immediately, the court will issue you a separate summons charging you with refusal.

Case law has identified three conditions that must be met for the legal admissibility of Alcotest results.

  • The device was in proper working order and had been inspected as required by law
  • The individual administering the test has been certified
  • The operator administered the Alcotest according to official procedure

One important condition for the proper administration of the Alcotest is the 20-Minute Observation Rule. When you are stopped for suspected drunk driving, and are then asked to take a breath test, the officer is required to continuously observe you for 20 minutes before administering it. If you swallow anything, regurgitate or the operator notices you chewing gum or tobacco, he must start the 20 minute period over. During the testing, the operator must assure that you do not burp, regurgitate or contaminate your breath sample in any other way. Additionally, if there is any interruption in the officer’s observation of you, he must restart the 20 minute period. The observation of you must be continuous and uninterrupted for 20 minutes.

16 July, 2013 / by John Marshall