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If a cop asks you to walk the line, do you have to comply?

Seeing red and blue patrol car lights flashing in your rear view mirror might not be your idea of a nice way to end an evening out with friends. It happens. A key to mitigating your circumstances may lie in your ability to remain calm and follow all instructions the officer gives you when he or she approaches your vehicle.

However, if said instructions include a request to step out of your car and take a field sobriety test, what should you do? As for the getting out of your car part, you must comply. The rest of it is optional though. That's right. You are under no legal obligation to take a field sobriety test. Beyond such information, it is still a good idea to familiarize yourself with these tests and to know your rights, so you can make informed decisions.

Most cops use one of three tests

The purpose of field sobriety tests is to determine if there is probable cause to arrest you for suspected impaired driving. In fact, by the time you step out of your car, you can pretty much bet that the officer in question already thinks you've been drinking or doing drugs. The following list includes basic information about the three most common types of field sobriety tests:

  • The walk-and-turn test measures your ability to follow simple instructions in a series of related events as well as your agility and balance.
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test measures your eyeball movements, in particular at what point they begin to jerk erratically if you are visually tracking an object left-to-right or up and down.
  • A one-leg stance test can throw even a sober person off-balance. However, many police officers use this test to check your balance by asking you to stand on one leg for 30 seconds while counting or reciting the alphabet out loud.

If you lift your arms or topple over, the next thing that happens might include handcuffs and a trip to the county jail. If you refuse to take a field sobriety test, there is no legal or administrative consequence. However, aggressive prosecutors know how to use such information against you in court. If you face DUI charges, you may be able to avoid conviction or, at least minimize consequences if you understand your rights and know how to protect them.

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Tim Kelly

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