Roadside Maneuvers

Voluntary Roadside Maneuvers

In virtually every DUI stop, one of the first things that the stopping officer will do is ask the driver to exit the car and submit to voluntary roadside maneuvers, also commonly referred to as field sobriety tests. There are three roadside tests that have been validated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Colorado, police officers usually test DUI suspects on these three roadside maneuvers, sometimes adding a few other invalidated tests.

3 Steps of Roadside Maneuvers

First, there is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which consists of an officer asking the suspect to follow their finger or the tip of a pen with their eyes while keeping the head still. The officers are looking for twitching of the eyes, which can be an indicator of alcohol consumption (although there are many other causes for this jerking other than alcohol use). There are many requirements that officers need to follow in order to conduct an accurate HGN roadside sobriety test. Some of these DUI testing requirements are very specific distances between the objects being tested, asking about head injuries, and making sure there are no flashing lights in the DUI suspect's field of vision. If any of there requirements are not followed, or if you had nystagmus for a reason other than alcohol intoxication, the test is meaningless.

The second maneuver is the Walk and Turn, where the officer has the DUI suspect walk heel to toe in a straight line for 9 steps. This again has a very specific protocol that DUI officers must follow, or the test is not valid. Even obtaining a "failing" score on the test does not mean that the driver was under the influence of alcohol. There are many other reasons why someone might not perform perfectly.

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The third field sobriety test is the One Leg Stand, where the officer has the DUI suspect stand on one leg for about 30 seconds. The officer is not only testing the driver's balance, but also the ability to follow directions, as well as the ability to perform two tasks at once. Like the Walk and Turn roadside test, performance on the One Leg Stand can be affected by many factors not related to alcohol intoxication or impairment. These maneuvers are designed to be difficult, and even a sober person may have difficulty performing them well.

What to do

Suspects of DUI stops should politely refuse to complete the maneuvers. These sobriety tests are voluntary, and an officer can not force you to take them. In most cases, the officer is not using the maneuvers to determine whether or not a person is safe to drive as most people would think. Rather, the officer has already made the decision to arrest the driver and is using the roadside sobriety maneuvers to further build their case against the suspect. These field sobriety tests are very subjective; a person does only as well as the officer dictates, and if they already suspect a person for DUI, their evaluation will be biased.

Note: A chemical test (blood or breath) IS NOT a voluntary roadside maneuver. Unlike voluntary roadside maneuvers, motorists can be penalized for refusing a chemical test by the Department of Motor Vehicles with the revocation of their driver’s license for a year or more.