Any number of issues might prompt a Wisconsin police officer to initiate a traffic stop. Perhaps he or she will claim that the radar gun registered your speed in excess of the posted speed limit. Then again, maybe you have a tail light out that you didn't know about when you got behind the wheel, and the officer will issue a warning and tell you to get it fixed right away.
You never know how a traffic stop will turn out. The worst might be that you get a speeding ticket. However, if the officer says, "Please exit your vehicle," it likely means there's a lot more at stake. In fact, it might mean that the officer thinks you've been illegally operating a motor vehicle under influence of alcohol. The more you know about field sobriety tests ahead of time, the better able you'll be to protect your rights if a situation like this occurs.
Why do police want you to take these tests?
Field sobriety tests have been a standard of operation for most police departments in Wisconsin and throughout the country since the 1970s. When a police officer initiates a traffic stop, he or she must have reasonable cause to do so. If the officer suspects you of a crime, he or she must have probable cause to make an arrest, which means there must be evidence to substantiate the officer's suspicion that you have committed a crime -- in this case, drunk driving.
Field sobriety tests help police determine whether they have probable cause to take a motorist into custody for suspected DWI. There are three basic tests they use most often, each of which allows them to observe your cognitive and physical abilities or lack thereof. If you submit to a test and the officer fails you, you might wind up in jail.
The three most common tests
In most states, police use three standardized field tests to determine if they have cause to make a drunk driving arrest. The walk-and-turn test shows how well you can balance while walking a straight line with outstretched arms held at shoulder length. You also have to place the heel of one foot at the toes of the other while walking.
An officer might also ask you to perform a one-leg stance test, in which case you hold your arms at your side while standing on one foot with the other held about six inches off the ground. To increase the challenge, the officer might ask you to look upward and count aloud while performing the test. A horizontal gaze nystagmus test is also a common determination exercise. The officer will closely observe the movement of your eyes while you track an object left to right or vertically.
Submitting or refusing
When a police officer asks you to take a field sobriety test, you might think you are legally obligated to consent to doing so. However, there are actually no legal or administrative penalties for refusing to take such tests. If you refuse to take a Breathalyzer test after an arrest, you're definitely likely to incur penalties, but this is not so concerning field sobriety tests.
Most Wisconsin drivers think it's best to comply with a police officer's request to take a field test. The choice is yours. The important thing is to understand your rights and know where to seek support to help you protect them, especially if you wind up facing charges for suspected drunk driving.