Types of Roadside Sobriety Tests and What to Consider Before You Refuse

Police standing in front of man in suit and tie with his finger on his nose during a roadside sobriety test

If you are traveling in Georgia during Thanksgiving or the holiday season and get stopped at a DUI checkpoint, knowing the options for roadside sobriety tests you can expect and what refusal options you have is crucial. Georgia law is strict on DUI, so knowing your rights and possible defenses ahead of time can help you beat drunk driving charges.

Thanksgiving Weekend Means More Traffic Stops and DUI Checkpoints

With the holiday season right around the corner, Georgia law enforcement will likely step up their street patrols, traffic stops, and DUI checkpoints. Last year, the Georgia Department of Public Safety announced increased patrols on interstates and secondary streets between the Wednesday leading up to Thanksgiving and the Sunday after. That’s because many people travel, go out with old friends, and attend family gatherings during the holiday weekend. In fact, the day before Thanksgiving is sometimes called “blackout Wednesday” because of the number of impaired or drunk drivers on the roads. With this increased enforcement, you need to be prepared.

Can You Refuse a Roadside Sobriety Test?

Whether you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint or pulled over for an alleged traffic violation, if the police believe you have been drinking they will try to perform a roadside sobriety test. While you are not required to answer the police’s questions about why they pulled you over, different laws apply to the taking roadside evaluations. Roadside sobriety evaluations that occur prior to arrest are different than the request made for a test after you are arrested. While you have a total right to refuse to perform roadside testing without penalty , the rules change once an arrest is made, and the Georgia’s Implied Consent law is invoked by the officer. Basically, the officer will read a warning that states that in exchange for the privilege of driving on Georgia’s roads, you implicitly agree to take a chemical test when asked to by the police. Refusing to submit to testing requested after your arrest may result in a license suspension.

That risk may sometimes be worth the cost. However, if the police have probable cause to believe that you are driving drunk or under the influence of drugs, they can still arrest you and obtain a warrant for a blood or urine test from a judge.

Types of Roadside Sobriety Tests

Georgia’s DUI laws are some of the toughest in the nation. Even your first DUI can result in:

  • Jail time
  • Probation
  • Fines
  • Costs
  • Community service
  • DUI school
  • License suspension

However, proving that you were driving under the influence often depends on the admission of roadside sobriety evaluations or other evidence produced in court. Which type of tests the police choose to use, and how they administer them, can sometimes open the door to DUI defenses you wouldn’t expect.

Dexterity-Based Field Tests

Most people know that alcohol and certain drugs can impair a person’s balance, coordination, and physical dexterity. Roadside sobriety tests created by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) that depend on dexterity include the walk-and-turn test or the one-leg stand test. However, many individuals cannot perform well on these tests due to physical restrictions. In addition, weather, road conditions, and other factors may also interfere with a driver’s ability to complete dexterity tests. Furthermore, the scoring of the evaluation is based totally on the officer’s opinion and scoring on how one performed while doing the evaluation.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN) involves the officer having an individual track the officer’s finger or other object with their eyes. The officer’s will often state that they are for the eyes to involuntarily “jerk” as the eyes follow the finger or when the finger is placed in position. The officer’s look for what they deem to be 6 clues. If 4 clues are present, the officer will state that is an indication of impairment. Georgia courts have recognized this evaluation as an approved roadside sobriety test. However, the application of this evaluation is somewhat technical, and officers frequently fail to administer this evaluation properly. It is also significant to understand that while alcohol intake, as well as certain drugs, can cause nystagmus, certain individuals display nystagmus naturally. Thus, while this test is used by law enforcement, the results of an individual’s performance are often interpreted incorrectly by law enforcement.

Alco-Sensor Breath Test

The first chemical alcohol test is a breath test, which uses an alco-sensor to test the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is often used as a roadside screening tool. This test is similar to the official state Intoxlilize 9000, AKA breathalyzer, which is typically located at the police station or jail. However, the screening devices differ from the Intoxlizer administered at the jail, as the number equating a blood alcohol level on portable alco-sensor breath testing device is not admissible in court. The officer can only state that the device created a positive result. This is the case whether the alcosensor registered a .25 (over the .08 level). While the actual number is not admissible at trial, the officer will use the number in making an arrest decision.

Urinalysis for Illegal Drugs

Georgia DUI laws also apply if you have taken any drug -- illegally or with a prescription -- that makes it less safe to drive. If the drug was prescribed or if the substance ingested was marijuana, the state will have to demonstrate that you are less safe to drive to prove the violation. Often, prescription medications will have warnings about drowsiness or other symptoms that may impair your driving ability. The same field evaluations are often used to make an arrest decision if an officer suspects drug impairment. While the police can request a urine test under the implied consent law after arrest, urine testing is typically not the best testing to utilize in a dui case. The urine test, in most cases, will basically only demonstrate that the accused driver ingested a drug at some point. Impairment is very difficult to be demonstrated merely by a drug urine test. The roadside evaluations will be a critical component in proofing a dui case when a urine test is involved.

DUI Blood Test

If you have refused a roadside sobriety test or were injured in a DUI accident, the police may get a warrant or ask you to submit to a DUI blood test. Unlike a breath test, you cannot refuse to surrender blood if a judge has signed off on a warrant. In addition, refusing a police request to voluntarily undergo a urine or blood test can be used against you in court. However, it can take hours for the police to secure the warrant and have a medical professional perform the test. This can create the opportunity for DUI defenses related to what happened in the meantime, and whether the proper procedures were followed, similar to a urinalysis.

Help When You Get Charged with a DUI

Knowing the rules for roadside sobriety tests and chemical tests can give you and your lawyer an advantage in defending against DUI charges. At The McCoy Law Firm, our criminal and DUI attorneys know how to work around a positive breath or blood test, and when to get the evidence excluded because the test lacked reliability or was not administered properly. If you are facing a DUI charge, don’t wait. Contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.

You may also be interested in:

Reasons You May Get Pulled Over in Suspicion of a DUI

Understanding DUI Child Endangerment in Georgia

What Is a Habitual Violator under the Georgia Motor Vehicle Code?

What Is the Criminal Process in Georgia?

DUI License Suspension in Georgia: Your 30-Day Warning

Categories: DUI