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Field Sobriety Tests

California Drunk Driving Attorneys Explain Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)

There are several field sobriety tests used in California to determine whether a person is under the influence. FSTs are designed to determine whether a person is “Under the Influence” by assessing the following:

  • Information processing;
  • Short-term memory;
  • Judgment and decision making;
  • Balance;
  • Steady, sure reactions;
  • Clear vision;
  • Small muscle control; and
  • Coordination of limbs.

Standard FST’s v. Non-standard FST’s

All FSTs fall into one of two categories, Standard Field Sobriety Test and all others. Standard FSTs are the only ones that should be used in a DUI investigation. The Standard FSTs have been evaluated and studied by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). While they have their own issues of reliability, non standard tests have certainly not been scientifically verified as being able to determine intoxication. The three, and only three, Standard FSTs are the Walk and Turn, Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, One Leg Stand. All other FSTs are non-standard and have not been scientifically verified.

The Tests

Each test must be explained and demonstrated before administered. The officer then looks for “cues” to determine whether the person is “under the influence.”

Walk and Turn

Directions: The Walk and Turn test requires the driver to stand in a heel-to-toe fashion with the arms at the sides while a series of instructions are given. Then, the driver must take 9 heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn in a prescribed manner, and take another 9 heel-to-toe steps along the line. All of this must be done while counting the steps aloud, keeping the arms at the sides, and looking at his or her feet. The driver must not stop walking until the test is completed.


  1. Cannot balance during the instructions.
  2. Starts too soon.
  3. Stops while walking.
  4. Misses heel-to-toe.
  5. Steps off the line.
  6. Uses arms to balance.
  7. Improper turn.
  8. Takes the wrong number of steps.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

Directions: From the center position, the driver follows a stimulus that is supposed to move smoothly all the way out to the driver’s left then move smoothly across the face all the way out to the driver’s right and then back to the center position (should take approximately four [4] seconds). Nystagmus is defined as the involuntary jerking of the eyes occurring as the eyes gaze toward the side. This occurs when a person is under the influence of a depressant such as alcohol.


  1. Lack of smooth pursuit in the left eye.
  2. Lack of smooth pursuit in the right eye.
  3. Distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation (left eye).
  4. Distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation (right eye).
  5. Angle of onset prior to 45 degrees (left eye).
  6. Angle of onset prior to 45 degrees (right eye).

One Leg Stand

Directions: The driver stands with his or her feet together and his or her arms down to his or her sides. The driver shall maintain that position while the officer provides instructions on how to complete the test. The driver then raises 1 leg of his or her choosing in a “stiff-legged” manner and holds the foot approximately 6 inches off the ground with the toes pointed forward so that the foot is parallel with the ground. The driver must keep his or her arms at his or her sides and must keep looking directly at his or her elevated foot while counting out loud in the following fashion: “one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three, and so on until told to stop.”


  1. Swaying.
  2. Using arms to balance.
  3. Hopping.
  4. Putting the foot down.

Romberg (Stand and Balance)

Directions: The Romberg Balance requires the driver to stand with his or her feet together, head tilted slightly back, and eyes closed while estimating the passage of 30 seconds. When the subject believes that the 30 seconds have passed, he or she should tilt his or her head forward, open his or her eyes, and say, “stop.”


  1. Driver’s ability to follow instructions.
  2. The amount and direction in which the driver sways.
  3. The driver’s estimated passage of 30 seconds.
  4. Eyelid tremors and body/leg tremors.
  5. Muscle tone (either more rigid or more flaccid than normal).
  6. Any statements or unusual sounds made by the driver when performing the test.

Finger to Nose

Directions: The driver is required to bring the tip of the index finger up to touch the tip of the nose while his or her eyes are closed and his or her head is tilted slightly back (standing in a manner identical to that required for the Romberg Balance FST). The driver will attempt this 6 times, 3 with each hand. The officer will instruct the driver as to which hand to use on each attempt.


  1. The driver’s ability to follow instructions.
  2. The amount and direction in which the driver sways.
  3. Eyelid tremors and body/leg tremors.
  4. Muscle tone (either more rigid or more flaccid than normal).
  5. Any statements or unusual sounds made by the driver when performing the test.
  6. The driver’s depth perception when attempting to touch the nose.
  7. Was the speed slow or fast when bringing the finger to the nose?
  8. Did the driver use the correct sequence as directed?

Finger Count

Directions: The Finger Count requires a driver to put one hand in front of him or her with the extended palm facing upward. The tip of the thumb is then touched with the tip of the index, middle, ring, and little finger. After each touch, the finger and thumb are separated. The driver is required to count out loud, “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR” in relation to each finger-thumb connection. The process is then reversed. 3 complete sets are performed.


  1. The driver’s ability to follow instructions.
  2. The driver starts too soon.
  3. The driver does not count as instructed.
  4. The driver does not touch fingers as instructed.
  5. The driver does not perform the correct number of sets.
  6. The driver stops before instructed to do so.


Directions: The Alphabet test requires a driver to recite the English alphabet out loud. An alternate method to conduct the Alphabet test requires a driver to write the English alphabet and then sign and date the paper.


  1. The driver’s ability to follow instructions.
  2. The driver starts too soon.
  3. The driver does not recite the alphabet correctly.
  4. The driver does not write the alphabet correctly (e.g., omits, repeats letters, runs out of space on paper, size of letters are inconsistent, writes in cursive, etc.).
  5. The driver exhibits slurred or incoherent speech.

Hand Pat

Directions: The Hand Pat requires a driver to place one hand extended, palm up, out in front of him or her. The other hand is placed on top of the first with the palm facing down. The top hand then begins to pat the bottom hand. The top hand rotates 180 degrees alternating between the back of the hand and the palm of the hand. The bottom hand remains stationary. The driver counts out loud, “ONE, TWO, ONE, TWO, ONE, TWO, etc.,” in relation with each pat.


  1. The driver’s ability to follow instructions.
  2. The driver starts too soon.
  3. The driver does not count as instructed.
  4. The driver does not pat his or her hands as instructed.
  5. The driver stops before instructed to do so.

Preliminary Alcohol Screen

A preliminary alcohol screen is technically an FST. There are no directions. Instead the officer has the driver blow into a hand held “Breathalyzer” type machine that takes a BAC reading. This test is inherently unreliable and most often not admissible in court. This test can be refused. However, a chemical test cannot be refused under the implied consent law. Be careful before refusing this test. Make sure you are not refusing a chemical test that you are required to take under implied consent.

Misdemeanor Cases

Successfully defending a misdemeanor case may include the following procedures:

  • Court Appearances
  • DMV “Admin Per Se” Hearing
  • DMV License Status Hearing
  • Motion Hearings on discovery and evidence admissibility/suppression
  • Prosecutor Negotiation
  • Judge or Jury Trial
  • Plea Bargaining
  • Sentencing

Some of the strategies we employ may include the following:

  • Discovery Sanctions
  • Subpoenaing Documents
  • Trial Continuances
  • Pitchess Motions
  • Witness 402 Hearings
  • and others…

Learn More…

If you are charged with a Traffic Misdemeanor or DUI, hire California’s best traffic law firm. We can help you get a great result on your case. To learn more about our procedures and how we can represent you, call the California Ticket King at 877-985-0002 or email our attorneys at

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Our California Traffic Attorneys

Scott Hullinger, Esq.

Scott Hullinger, Esq.

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Rowland Dinkins, Esq.

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Manny "Lee Buck" Rios, Esq.

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Sherrett Walker, Esq.

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Jon Osborn, Esq.

San Diego Traffic Attorney


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Morgan Ross, Esq.

San Diego Traffic Attorney


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Andrew Roberts, Esq.

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Andrew Gokoffski, Esq.

Andrew Gokoffski, Esq.

Marin Traffic Attorney


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