Every state has a tough set of laws to reduce the number of drunk driving crashes. When officers pull a driver over in New York, they may conduct a field sobriety test to check for impairment. Some people may wonder what happens if they refuse these tests.

Common field sobriety tests

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined that some tests have been effective for testing impairment. The officer looks for a certain number of cues that could indicate impaired driving.

The horizontal gaze test requires the driver to follow an object with their eyes, such as a pen. This test checks for jerking eye movements at a 45-degree angle, or nystagmus.

The walk-and-turn test requires the driver to walk a straight line in one direction, turn on one leg, and walk back the opposite direction. The one-leg stand test requires the driver to balance on one leg for about 30 seconds. These tests check a driver’s coordination and ability to follow directions.

Refusing field sobriety tests

When a driver operates a motor vehicle on public highways, they give implied consent to field sobriety and chemical testing, though the specifics vary by state. In California, this only applies to drivers who have been lawfully arrested for DUI and chemical testing.

Unknown to many drivers 21 and older with no previous DUIs, they are not legally obligated to take field sobriety tests. However, the officers seldom tell drivers they don’t have to submit and may use it as evidence of guilt. Despite research, there have been debates about the accuracy of the field tests. Certain medical conditions and age can make passing the sobriety tests harder, even sober.

A DUI arrest often comes with stiff penalties, but tests aren’t always accurate. People who are in this situation might find it advisable to retain an experienced attorney to challenge the results and attempt to obtain a favorable outcome.



James Auricchio was admitted to the practice of Law in 2001. He entered private practice in 2010 after earning distinction as a State and Federal Prosecutor.

Named to the list of Superlawyers, in 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024, a distinction awarded to less than 5 percent of all attorneys in New York State