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What Happens if You Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

Written by: Jody Adams
Last updated: January 31, 2024

You've had a few drinks, the night is winding down, and you're ready to call it a night. But then, those flashing red and blue lights fill your rearview mirror, and panic sets in. You're being pulled over, and the officer suspects you've been drinking.

Next thing you know, they're asking you to step out of the car and perform a field sobriety test. What do you do? Should you agree or refuse? This article will walk you through the ins and outs of refusing a field sobriety test and the potential consequences of your decision.

To Refuse or Not to Refuse? That is the Question!

So, you're standing there, faced with the choice: to test or not to test. Before you make your decision, it's essential to understand the nitty-gritty of field sobriety tests.

What is a Field Sobriety Test?

A field sobriety test is a series of physical and cognitive tasks that law enforcement uses to assess a driver's level of impairment. These tests are often administered roadside when an officer suspects a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most common field sobriety tests include:

1. Walk and Turn: You're asked to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, then turn on one foot and return in the same manner.

2. One-Leg Stand: You have to balance on one leg while raising the other foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud for around 30 seconds.

3. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The officer uses a pen or flashlight to track your eye movements while you follow it without moving your head.

Your Right to Refuse

It's crucial to know that field sobriety tests are not mandatory in many places, including the United States. You have the right to refuse these tests, but that doesn't mean there won't be consequences. Your decision to refuse should be made based on a clear understanding of the potential outcomes.

Consequences of Refusing a Field Sobriety Test

Refusing a field sobriety test can have various consequences, and it's essential to be aware of these before making your choice.

No Hard and Fast Rule

The consequences of refusing a field sobriety test can vary from one jurisdiction to another. Here's a general idea of what you might face:

License Suspension

In many states, refusing a field sobriety test can lead to an automatic driver's license suspension. This suspension typically occurs through an administrative process that is separate from the criminal charges you may face.

Jury Suspicion

When you refuse a field sobriety test, it can make you appear less cooperative in the eyes of a jury or judge if your case goes to trial. However, keep in mind that the prosecution cannot use your refusal as evidence of guilt.

Blood or Breath Test

Refusing a field sobriety test doesn't necessarily mean you can avoid chemical tests (breath or blood) to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Some jurisdictions can still compel you to take these tests, and refusing can have severe consequences.

Additional Penalties

Refusing a field sobriety test can lead to additional penalties if you are later convicted of DUI (Driving Under the Influence). These penalties might include longer license suspensions, fines, or even jail time.

The Verdict: Should You Refuse?

Ultimately, the decision of whether to refuse a field sobriety test is a personal one. Consider these factors before making your choice:

Your level of impairment: If you're confident you're sober and can pass the test, taking it might work in your favor.

Potential consequences: Understand the laws and regulations in your jurisdiction regarding field sobriety tests and the associated penalties for refusal.

Consult an attorney: If you're unsure, consider speaking with an attorney for legal advice tailored to your situation.

Cooperation: Remember that cooperation with law enforcement is generally advised, even if you choose to refuse the field sobriety test.


"What happens if I refuse a field sobriety test?" is a question that might arise in a moment of anxiety during a traffic stop. It's a decision that can have significant implications for your future, so it's crucial to be informed. Whether you choose to submit to the test or not, remember that your rights and potential consequences can vary based on your location.

Always exercise good judgment, and if in doubt, seek legal advice from an attorney to make the best choice for your unique situation. Remember, the key to staying out of this situation altogether is to drink responsibly and never drive under the influence!

Jody Adams
Jody Adams is an accomplished editor-in-chief with a deep understanding of social care and government benefits issues. With a background in journalism and a master's degree in Public Policy, Jody has spent her career shaping the narrative around social policies and their impact on society. She has worked with renowned publications, effectively bridging the gap between complex policy analysis and public understanding. Jody's editorial expertise ensures that vital information on social care and government benefits reaches a broad audience, empowering individuals to make informed decisions.
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