What are Field Sobriety Exercises?

Field Sobriety Exercises or (FSE) are exercises designed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to measure an individual’s ability to perform certain divided attention tests.  The divided attention tests measure concentration of mental and physical tests at the same time.    

The following is an outline for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of rendering legal advice.

What type of divided attention tests are administered during a DUI investigation?

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) 

This exercise consists of the Officer holding a pen light in front of the driver in which the officer will ask the driver to follow the tip of the pen with his or her eyes moving the pen in a horizontal and vertical direction. 

The clues which the officer is looking for consist of the following:

  • Did the driver exhibit nystagmus.  Nystagmus is defined as an involuntary jerking of the eyes.
  • Was the driver able to follow with his or her eyes
  • Did the driver sway while performing the exercise
  • Did the driver move his or her head during the exercise
  • Was the driver able to follow the directions

Walk and Turn Exercise 

This exercise consists of the driver walking a line talking 9 heel to toe steps up the line and 9 heel to toe steps down the line.  The driver is instructed to count out loud keeping his or her arms by their side during the exercise.

The officer will be looking to see if the driver:

  • Can listen to the instructions
  • Loses balance
  • Starts the exercise before the instructions are finished
  • If the driver does not touch heel to toe
  • Did the driver use his or her arms for balance
  • Did the driver count out loud
  • Did the driver take the correct number of steps
  • Was the driver able to perform the exercise

One Leg Stand Exercise

The driver is asked to stand with their feet together with their arms at their side.  Then they are instructed to raise one leg with the foot approximately 6 inches off the ground. The driver then must count out loud until the officer tells them to stop.

The officer will be looking to see if the driver:

  • Swayed or used arms for balance
  • Was the driver unable to perform the exercise
  • Did the driver hop while performing the exercise

There are also certain situations in which the Officer may ask the driver to perform alternate exercises due to the age of the driver, the health of the driver, or environmental factors.  These exercises may consist of a Finger-to-Nose exercise or Alphabet test. 

As each person has varying degrees of physical balance, agility, stamina, and dexterity the officer’s observations may not always equate to signs of impairment.   There may also be health related reasons why a person may not perform well on the FSE’s.

If you have been arrested for Driving Under the Influence call an experienced DUI Attorney in Dunedin, FL at (727-330-7800) for a free consultation to discuss your case.


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