Field Sobriety Tests

I consider myself to be a connoisseur of the art of Field Sobriety Tests.  Not an expert, mind you, because I have failed before (although 5 out of 6 is pretty good, if I may toot my horn just a bit).  But a connoisseur in the sense that I take an almost perverse pleasure in studying the art of the field sobriety test.

This is the story of the first time I ever got pulled over for suspicion of Driving Under the Influence.

I was out with the usual cast of characters, in this case Tripod and Will The Mormon.  We met with some friends at an Irish pub down by the beach.  It was a week night and I had been drafted into the role of Designated Driver, which just meant I had to drink a couple less than my friends.  In 3 hours or so I had about seven beers and two or three shots (kamikazes or something like that).  I was mildly buzzed, but all in all feeling pretty good and more than capable of driving.  So we all piled in my crappy little Pontiac Sunbird and took off for home.

We hadn’t gone more than six blocks when I saw the cop car pull in behind me.  The lights went on, the siren gave a brief wail, as if to say “Yeah, you, asshole!” and I started pulling over.  Now, I had never been pulled over while drinking before, and it suddenly occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea what “legally” intoxicated was.  So, although I felt more than competent to operate a motorized vehicle, panic started to set in.  I frantically reached for a penny in the center console to suck on (because we’ve all heard that urban legend, right?); I started breathing as deep as possible, as if I could expel all the alcohol in my lungs before the cop got his breathalyzer out.  Will The Mormon was absolutely trashed in the backseat and he was trying to give me a pep talk.  Tripod in the passenger seat had been nearly passed out just a minute ago, but now he was wide awake and nodding enthusiastically to all of Will The Mormon’s motivational speech. 

The cop sauntered over to my window and talked to me for about ten seconds before he decided I needed to step out of the vehicle for a field sobriety test.  As I came around the back of my car and over to the sidewalk he pointed out a woman just getting out of the squad car passenger seat; he informed me she was an Assistant District Attorney out on a ride-along.  At that moment I knew I was in serious trouble.  This cop was going to pull out all the stops to bust my ass and show off to the D.A.

My first test was the pen test.  For those of you that don’t know, this is where the police officer holds his pen about two feet from your face and moves it back and forth, up and down, to watch how your eyes track.  Now, years later I would learn that a drunk person’s eyes don’t track in a fluid linear motion, they tend to jump and twitch from spot to spot; there’s nothing you can do to prevent this except not drink.  But fortunately, this in and of itself is not enough to get you arrested, so they look for other things too.  For instance, when they drop the pen down and out of your vision, many drunk people will bend over to follow the pen, or sometimes they’ll just flat out fall over.  I had heard this before, so the whole time I was preparing myself to not follow the pen when he dropped it out of view.


This cop also had the annoying habit of moving the pen so far to the left or right that it literally left my peripheral vision.  Knowing that one of the things they are looking for is you to turn your whole head rather than just track with your eyes, so once the pen left my field of view I’d hold for a second, then look directly at the cop and say “I can’t see that far.  No one has that good of peripheral vision.”

This went on for some time.  I could tell the cop was getting frustrated with my refusal to try and follow a pen that was four feet outside my range of vision, and that gave me confidence.  My heart was still pounding in my chest, I still had the feeling that I could piss my pants at any moment, but I was starting to feel like I could do this.  Meanwhile, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Tripod had rolled down his window and was leaning out of the car.  I could vaguely hear him giving a commentary to Will The Mormon on how he thought I was doing, kind of like a play-by-play.

Next up was the old “touch your nose” test.  Feet together, head tilted back, eyes shut, both arms extended, you’re supposed to touch your nose with your finger.  drunk people have a hard time doing this, they end up missing their nose and poking themselves in the eye or slapping themselves in the face.  Despite my seven beers and three shots I had no problem with this one, and I could hear Tripod behind me give a little cheer.  My confidence continued to grow.


Test number three was almost the end of me.  The cop told me to stand feet together, head tilted back, hands at my sides.  Then I had to lift one foot six inches off the ground and hold it.  While maintaining that pose, I had to count from one-thousand-one to one-thousand-thirty.  The officer told me if I lost my balance to just stop, collect myself, go back on one foot, and continue from where I left off.


I got to one-thousand-three before I lost my balance.

I’m going to jail.

But I collected myself, got back in position, and ran it off all the way to one-thousand-thirty without missing a beat.  Tripod was cheering unabashedly now, a loud “Fuck yeah!” coming from the car.  I took a quick glance over towards the car and saw Tripod had somehow wedged his little foot into the door handle so he could lean nearly half of his 4’4” frame out the window.  He was giving me a proud fist pump (years before Jersey Shore made fist pumping cool).  In the backseat Will The Mormon was bouncing around like a 7 year old on a sugar high.  I think he actually did a full cartwheel before I turned away so I wouldn’t bust out laughing.

The police officer, meanwhile, was not amused.  Neither was the Assistant D.A.  They must have thought they had a surefire arrest, and now they were being subjected to the humiliation of an inebriated midget leaning out the window cheering along as their quarry got closer and closer to freedom.

The cop asked me next, “What’s the highest level of education you’ve achieved.”

I was a little taken aback at this one.  What did that have to do with anything?  “Uh, a bachelor’s degree?”

“Ok, I want you to say the alphabet for me…”  I started laughing.  What would he have said if I’d told him I was a high school drop out?  “I want you to count all your little piggies…”

“Don’t rhyme it, don’t sing the song, just say each letter slowly and clearly.”

At this point I knew I was home free.  I’d heard of people being asked to recite the alphabet backwards, but this?  A retarded monkey could do this.  So I went through it as painfully slowly as I dared, trying hard to keep the smirk off my face.

The Assistant D.A. was clearly tired of this game and wanted to go, but the copper wasn’t through with me yet.  He still had to administer the straight line.  He started rattling off all the instructions: place one foot in front of the other, heel to toe, 8 steps and then pivot so you remain on the same imaginary line, then walk back, heel to toe, 8 steps again.  Just as I was starting, I noticed a couple drunk girls stumbling home from the bars.  They kept their heads down, trying not to attract the attention of the police, but they couldn’t help themselves from swerving and giggling.


I was about four steps into my straightline when the girls walked by my car.  Tripod, still leaning so far out of the car I thought he would tumble out at any moment, suddenly blurted out, “Hey, you girls need a  ride?  He’ll be done in a minute!” 

I couldn’t help it, I started giggling uncontrollably.  The cop got an even more sour look on his face than before.  “This is serious!”

Now I was confident enough that I had the courage to mouth off.  “No, it really isn’t.  It would be if I was drunk.” I answered as I continued my straight line, making an obnoxiously large pirouette on my pivot and practically strutting the final 8 steps to freedom.

The cop gave me the usual “You’ve clearly had some to drink tonight and you show some signs of intoxication.  One more and you’d probably be coming with me tonight.  I’d suggest a designated driver next time.” 

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was the designated driver.  I just said “Yes, sir,” and made a hasty getaway.  The whole way home I high fived Tripod and Will The Mormon, we called everyone we knew to brag about our brush with the law, we even debated stopping at a bar to have “one more,” but decided not to tempt fate anymore on that night.



  1. This has always been one of my favorites.

  2. As a NYC cop and administrator of countless DWI arrests, I want to congratulate you on beating the street tests. Close call averted!
    However, your number one concern should not be being pulled over by a cop. Who gives a shit if you make it home without getting pulled over? That should not be your only concern. How would you feel if you ran a stop sign, t-boned another car and killed the child in the back seat? One moment everything in your life is great, no cops in sight, then the next moment a child is dead because of you. Maybe you ran the stop sign because of alcohol? Maybe you ran the stop sign totally by accident and would have run it even if you did not drink? You’ll never know the answer to that question and that child will never sleep in their own bed again. Would you want to live with that?
    Why am I such a party pooper on this? Too many times I have responded to accidents in Manhattan where the child, or passenger is dead because the other driver was not highly intox, but only had a “few”. Ever see a bloody doll on the highway? I have. I hope you never see such a horror (or cause it) and decide to keep it to about one drink an hour while being the DD.

    • You are absolutely right, drunk driving is no laughing matter.

      However, I have serious issues with the way it is enforced in some parts. The BAC test is a feeble attempt to put an objective measure on something that’s totally subjective. I understand the reason for this, with scumbag lawyers these days it’s almost impossible to prove a subjective in a court of law. But that doesn’t change the fact that the BAC is a flawed measure. I knew a 300+ pound guy that would be flat on the floor drunk after two beers. And I’ve known 100 pounds girls that could drink me under the table. Under the BAC laws, the 300 pound man would be free to drive and the 100 girl would go to jail.

      I actually was arrested in Utah for DWI. I passed all the field sobriety tests, but when I blew a .096 they backtracked and said I had been unsteady on the tests. Since I was new to the area and didn’t know anyone to bail me out, I had to stay at the station until I could blow zeroes. Now, according to law enforcement, the “average” person’s BAC drops by .015 per hour, but only after it has stopped climbing (and it will climb for two hours typically). So, at the absolute minimum I was looking at being held for 6.5 hours, probably closer to 8. Instead, I blew zeroes in barely 5 hours. So, either I have a superhuman ability to process alcohol (unlikely) or the BAC test was flawed to begin with.

      I applaud the police in San Diego, they were always fair and reasonable. I was stopped three times in my years there; every time they gave me the battery of tests, and when I passed them they sent me on my way. If only the Mormon morality police in Utah were so fair!

      (Side note: Did you know in Utah, being intoxicated and in possession of your keys within 100 feet of your vehicle is considered “intent to drive” and is considered a DWI???)

      So, while I appreciate your position, and I will readily admit I made some mistakes in my youth, I have some serious issues with the way DUI laws are handled in this country. But don’t worry, in recent years I have discovered a love for stumbling home when I’m drunk. Works off calories and lessens the morning hangover!

  3. “Did you know in Utah, being intoxicated and in possession of your keys within 100 feet of your vehicle is considered “intent to drive” and is considered a DWI”?

    What?? That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. If I stand with an erection within 100 feet of a woman does that mean I intend to rape her? How fucking stupid. What if I hold a knife within 100 feet of anyone…does that mean I intend to stab them? That is a stupid fucking law.

    The road side tests, while not perfect, are what we use to build Probable Cause. (Probable Cause is what is needed to be arrested.) Cops are not judge and jury, so all arrests must be made under reasonable conditions. If during the trial, it is proven the defendent is completely innocent and that the cop made a mistake (we are human) we are protected as long as the arrest is reasonable. Could you imagine what it would be like if that wasn’t the case? Cops would not arrest anyone for fear of being sued. “Sorry ma’am I can’t help you unless you can prove to me that man running away stole your purse” Imagine if that was the world we live in? Holy shit, there would be more criminals.
    Who decides if the arrest was reasonable? A Grand Jury. They decide if enough probable cause existed to effect an arrest. An arrestee must see a Grand Jury within 24 hours.
    There is more that goes into building Probabale Cause and whether or not to collar someone for DWI then just the road-side tests. Driver’s observed behavior before being pulled over..swerving…driving unreasonably slow, driving with brights on (Manhattan remember), Officer’s training and experience, time of day and location (many DWI arrests at a particular intersection), 911 calls,(Sometimes other drivers will call in and report a driver swerving or driving erraticly.) So while not one of the above mention items will be enough to effect an arrest, you put a couple of them together…well…silver bracelets for you. Example: Friday night…2am…Numerous 911 calls recieved that a white honda is driving erracticly southbound on at the 42nd Street exit…I drive to the FDR and sure enough there is a white Honda in the left hand lane swerving over to the middle lane, brights are on and the vehicle is traveling at approx 40 mph in a 55 mph zone. Numerous other drivers are honking and attempting to pass causing a dangerous situation. Now..I have all this and I did not even pull the Honda over yet. Could be someone having a heart attack…could be a diabetic needing insulin…could be numerous other things other then DWI. I put my lights on and attempt to pull the Honda over. Driver does not pull over immediately, rather continues at a slow rate of speed, and continues to swerve. That is now another check in the Probable Cause column and driver is not even pulled over yet. Finally, the driver pulls over and I approach the vehicle. I place my hand on his trunk..why?…to put my fingerprints on his vehicle in case he shoots me, my fingerprints on his trunk links his vehicle to the crime-scene. I approach the window and immediately smell alcohol, and observe the driver with blood shot eyes. Enough to make an arrest? Yeah, when ALL facts are considered. I have enough to take the driver into custody to investigate further at the station house where we have breathalyzers and where we do the “roadside” tests in the precinct where it is also filmed. Why back at the precinct? Not very safe to conduct roadside tests in Manhattan….Is there enough evidence to be found guilty in court? I don’t give a shit. 🙂 I am kidding, I do care…but on the side of the road is not the place to decide such things. At this point, the arrest would most likely be deemed reasonable by a Grand Jury when all facts are condsidered.
    So while the BAC is subjective, that comes into play in court and not on the roadside. A good lawyer will use that angle and help reduce your sentence or even get you off.

    I like your stumble home theory. You never you can get picked up by a complete stranger again!

    • Hey, comments aren’t supposed to be as long as the blog! 😉

      But seriously, I respect your opinions and I wholeheartedly agree that drinking and driving is no laughing matter. As I said, I thought the police in San Diego did an excellent job; they pulled me over, gave me a battery of tests, and upon determining I was safe let me go. Utah, however, where the Mormon morality police are in full effect, was a different story. I will go to my grave saying I passed all the sobriety tests, but when I blew just over the Mormon officer suddenly backtracked and started saying I was unsteady on my feet. I also have questions about the accuracy of the breathalyzer, but that’s just semantics…

      • That is strange! But then again I shake my head at alot of what small town cops do. Some of the shit I have seen or heard of is out of this world to me. But then again I police NYC which is another world in and of itself.

        Especially Utah. 🙂

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