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Standard Field Sobriety Tests in Iowa

Field sobriety tests are used by peace officers to determine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe a person is intoxicated.

You may refuse a field sobriety test. If so, you will be immediately arrested, but your driver’s license will not be taken away. The most reliable field sobriety test used is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. With this test, you are instructed to follow the officer’s pen or penlight but without moving your head. The officer will move the pen or penlight back and forth horizontally. Most people think they can do this just fine, but there are involuntary eye tremors that the officer looks for. This generally indicates intoxication. The problems with this test, however, are certain prescription drugs, flashing lights and traffic passing by can also make your eyes tremor more profoundly than normal even though you are not intoxicated. Also, the officer has complete discretion to determine whether you are intoxicated, and the recording video camera is not zoomed in on your face to confirm any eye tremors.

Another option would be for the officer to instruct you to walk a certain number of paces from heel to toe and in a straight line. Then you will turn and do the same thing in the opposite direction. The officer will also instruct you to keep your arms down and to your sides and to count your paces. This test, although acceptable for the officer to use, is not the more accurate test for determining if someone is intoxicated or not. It is possible for someone who is legally intoxicated to pass this test.

Another less-common test is where the officer will instruct you to stand on one leg while raising your other leg while extended straight in front of you and six inches off the ground. Then the officer will instruct you to hold your leg up while counting to a specified number out loud. Although this test is approved to be used, it rarely is because the tasks under this test could be difficult for someone not intoxicated.


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