If you think back to your high school or college days (perhaps you are still navigating the latter) you may recall getting sweaty palms, a stomach ache or even full-blown anxiety attacks just before taking a test. Test anxiety is a common condition. You might know the material like the back of your hand, but when you sit down to take a test, you draw a blank and wind up failing. New York police officers sometimes administer tests during traffic stops.
If you have test anxiety, you'll want to think twice before submitting to a request to take a field sobriety test. Police use such tests to determine if they have probable cause to arrest you on suspicion of drunk driving or other impairment. If you fail a field test, you might very well spend your next several hours in a jail cell. In such situations, it pays to know your rights ahead of time and to know how to quickly access support.
The Big Three
There are numerous types of field sobriety tests, but most New York police officers use the same three tests. If a patrol officer pulls you over and asks you to step out of your car, the next request might include one or more of the tests described in the following list:
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is an observational test to determine if your eyes move erratically while tracking an object from left to right or up and down. Intoxication often causes people's eyeballs to jerk before they've reached their maximum peripheral vision point.
- A police officer who suspects you've been drinking while driving may also ask you to stand on one leg with the other leg six inches off the ground. You will have to keep your arms at your sides and look up at the sky while counting a series of numbers aloud, as well.
- The field sobriety test with which most people are familiar is the walk-and-turn test. This test requires you to walk a straight line by placing the heel of one foot at the tip of the toes of the other with every step while holding your arms outward at shoulder length.
Even a sober person might experience high levels of stress while trying to perform these maneuvers on the side of a road with traffic passing by. Also, if you have an eye condition or have recovered from a past sports or auto accident injury, you might have a lot of trouble successfully performing such tasks.
You are not legally obligated to submit
Many New York drivers believe it is better to cooperate as much as possible to avoid making matters worse when a police officer asks them to take a field sobriety test. However, you are not legally obligated to take such tests. There are no administrative or criminal penalties for refusing. Threatening someone with arrest for his or her refusal is a personal rights violation. The more you know about your rights, the better able you are to protect them.