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.