If you were to say that you sometimes drive home after having a beer or glass of wine with friends on a night out in Massachusetts, you definitely would not be the first person to admit such things. Driving after consuming minimal amounts of alcohol does not necessarily mean you are breaking the law. Of course, it’s up to you and every other motorist to understand that alcohol affects every person’s body differently and to make responsible choices regarding your own blood alcohol content and motor vehicle operation.
There may even be times when you haven’t had any alcohol to drink, and a police officer still suspects you of drunk driving, perhaps because your tires veered a bit too close to the yellow line or you forgot to turn your headlights on after dusk. All a police officer needs to stop you is reasonable suspicion. If he or she asks you to get out of your car and take a field sobriety test, your future may hinge upon the outcome.
Basic facts about three basic tests
The moment you step out of your vehicle at the request of a police officer during a traffic stop, he or she is detaining you. This means, you are not free to leave the scene unless the officer grants you permission to do so. While you are standing outside of your car, you may have to decide whether to submit to one or more of the following tests:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus: This measures eyeball movements when you gaze at a moving object left to right. The officer will ask you to use only your eyes, not your head, to follow the movement of the object. Human eyeballs jerk erratically when they reach maximum peripheral view ranges. However, intoxicated people tend to exhibit such erratic movements in their eyes a lot sooner, hence the reason for the test is to determine if you might be under the influence of alcohol.
- Walk-and-turn: Sometimes police officers want to check how well you follow simple instructions and also whether you have a well-balanced gait. To do this, an officer may request that you take a test where you walk a straight line. You must place the heel of one foot at the tip of the toes on the other as you go. When you get to the end of the line, you must turn and repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.
- Standing on one leg: Even completely sober people can have trouble standing on one leg. If a police officer thinks you are a bit wobbly or you fail to follow instructions correctly, you may wind up behind bars before the night is over. The officer might ask you to count while you stand on one leg as well.
Such tests are enough to make even the calmest people quite nervous. If you fail one or more tests, you might face DUI charges, even if you did not drink copious amounts of alcohol before driving. Field sobriety tests are not legally required, meaning you have the right to refuse to submit to a police officer’s request. The same does not go for breathalyzer tests, however. If you refuse a breath test, you will likely incur automatic administrative penalties, such as driver’s license suspension.
Outside support available
To help alleviate stress and protect personal rights, many Massachusetts motorists request legal representation as soon as police officers ask them to exit their vehicles.