Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs), often called “roadsides,” are tests developed by the National Safety and Transportation Administration and used by law enforcement to determine whether someone is impaired by alcohol. Importantly, the tests have only been validated for alcohol impairment and have not been scientifically validated for determining impairment due to marijuana or other drugs.
Law enforcement officers administering the tests are looking for “indicia” or “clues” of impairment. Essentially, they are trying to count the number of ways you did not perform the test like a sober person would.
The roadsides are completely voluntary. You do not have to consent to them and there is no penalty for refusing them. Often, drivers believe that they are not actually impaired and that they can use the roadsides to show the officer that they are not. This line of thinking is often a mistake, as the officers administering these tests have already decided that you are likely impaired—they would not have asked you to take the test if they thought otherwise. The test then becomes a way for the officer to confirm his or her belief about your impairment, and it adds to the evidence against you.
The tests you may be asked to take include the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand. The officer will give you specific instructions regarding each of these tests, and then observe how closely you follow directions in addition to your more general performance on each test, i.e., your balance.
Officers are also required to administer roadsides under conditions that will maximize their reliability. This includes proper lighting, a flat surface, and other conditions that their training requires. Sometimes, the reliability of the results of roadsides may be called into question if the officer does not follow the proper safeguards.
Whether you decide to submit to roadsides is up to you. If you did consent and you are currently facing a DUI or DWAI charge, you should consult with an attorney immediately to seek advice that is specific to your case.