What does the “one-leg” field sobriety test really measure?

If you are pulled over in Virginia or North Carolina under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), you may be subject to a variety of field sobriety tests.  These tests are used by law enforcement officers to determine if a driver has been drinking enough to impact their ability to drive a vehicle.


One commonly used field sobriety test is the one-leg stand test, classified as a “divided attention” test.  Divided attention tests are used to test a person’s sobriety by determining if they can perform actions at the same time as they listen to instructions.  The theory is that people who are intoxicated have difficulty listening to instructions at the same time as they perform a task.


In the one-leg stand test, a police officer will typically ask a DUI suspect to lift one leg six inches off the ground for a set period of time (usually about 30 seconds).  You can usually pick which leg you lift, and while it is raised you must count as instructed.


What is the point of this silly sounding test?  The police officer will be looking for signs that you are intoxicated.  These signs include:

  • Swaying: if you sway more than about 3 inches in either direction while standing on one foot, the officer may conclude that you could be intoxicated.  Of course, you could be swaying because it is very hard for any person – sober or not – to stand on one foot.
  • Using arms for balance: if you use your arms to balance yourself while on one foot, it could be interpreted as a sign that you are intoxicated – even though this is a natural way for a person to balance.
  • Hopping to maintain balance: if you hop to avoid falling while on one foot, this is another sign that you might be intoxicated.  However, this can be a normal way for a person who is not drunk to try and maintain balance on one foot.
  • Putting your foot down: if you put your foot down while trying to stand on only one foot, this is yet another sign that you might be intoxicated.  Again, unless you have perfect balance, even people not under the influence of alcohol or drugs can have a tough time not doing this.


If it sounds like this would be a frustrating and impossible test for you regardless of whether or not you’ve been drinking, then you are not alone.  Some people simply do not have very good balance, and anyone being examined by a police officer is bound to be nervous and make mistakes while performing such a ridiculous action.


If you’ve had to suffer through the one-leg stand test or any other field sobriety test and were accused of driving under the influence, you can get help from an experienced drunk driving attorney.  The lawyers at Tavss Fletcher have represented men and women accused of DUIs in Virginia and North Carolina, and they can help you, too.  Please contact their Norfolk based office today.



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555 East Main Street, 14th Floor

Norfolk, VA 23510

Telephone: (757) 625-1214

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