Why was I arrested for DUI?

DUI Detection and the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) In Washington State according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA):

NHTSA Divided  DUI detection into three phases, (1) Vehicle in motion, (2) Personal contact and (3) Pre-arrest screening. Each phase usually can be then divided into two tasks and one major decision:

Phase One: Vehicle in motion – Should the Officer Stop the Vehicle?

1. Initial observation of the vehicle in motion: NHTSA Recognizes twentyfour (24) visual cues

  • Weaving
  • Weaving across lane lines
  • Straddling a lane line
  • Swerving
  • Turning with wide radius
  • Drifting
  • Almost striking object or vehicle
  • Stopping Problems
  • Accelerating or decelerating rapidly
  • Varying speed
  • Slow Speed (10 mph under the limit)
  • Driving in opposing lanes or wrong way on one-way street
  • Slow responses to traffic signals
  • Slow or failure to respond to Officer’s signals
  • Stopping in lane for no apparent reason
  • Driving without headlights at night
  • Failure to signal or signal inconsistent with action
  • Following too closely
  • Improper or unsafe lane change
  • Illegal or improper turn
  • Driving on other than designated roadway
  • Stopping inappropriately in response to officer
  • Inappropriate or unusual behavior
  • Appearing to be impaired

2. Observation of the stopping sequence: NHTSA mentions six cues:

  • An attempt to flee
  • No response
  • Slow response
  • An abrupt swerve
  • Sudden stop
  • Striking the curb or another object

Phase Two: Personal contact – Should the officer have the driver exit the vehicle?

1.  Face-to-face observation and interview of the driver: Officers are trained to use their sense of sight, hearing, and smell. Example of clues officers are trained to look for:


  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Soiled clothing
  • Fumbling fingers
  • Alcohol containers
  • Drug or drug paraphernalia
  • Bruises, bumps or scratches
  • Unusual actions


  • Slurred speech
  • Admissions of drinking
  • Abusive language
  • Unusual statements


  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Marijuana
  • “Cover up” odors like breath sprays
  • Unusual odors

2. Observation of the exit and walk

Pre-exit interview techniques – these questions are
designed to test your ability to divide attention

  • Asking for two things simultaneously
  • Asking interrupting or distracting questions
  • Asking unusual questions

The exit sequence

  • Shows angry or unusual reactions
  • Cannot follow instructions
  • Leaves the vehicle in gear
  • Climbs out the vehicle
  • Leans against vehicle
  • Keeps hands on vehicle for balance

Phase three: Prearrest screening – Is there probable
cause for the Officer to arrest you for DUI?

1. Psychophysical field sobriety testing – Standardized field sobriety tests consist of three tests: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmu(HGN), Walk and Turn (WAT), and the One Leg Stand (OLS).

HGN – Nystagmus is the involuntary jerking of the eyes. The officer is trained to look for three clues in each eye for a
total of six clues. The original NHTSA research suggested that the presence of four or more clues it is likely that the blood alcohol concentrate (BAC) is above 0.10 and the test is 77% accurate (Note: this is highly debated and many things cause HGN). The clues are:

  • Lack of Smooth pursuit
  • Distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum
  • Onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees
    WAT – Divided attention test that consist of two stages, the instruction state and the walking stage. There are a total of eight clues possible. Officer are trained that if two or more clues are observed or the test cannot be completed it is likely that the BAC is above 0.10. According not NHTSA the test is 68 percent accurate. The clues are:
  • Can’t balance during the instructions
  • Starts too soon
  • Stops while walking
  • Doesn’t touch heel-to-toe
  • Steps off line
  • Uses arms to balance
  • Loses balance on turn or turns incorrectly
  • Takes the wrong number of steps

OLS – Divided attention test as well that consist of two stages, the instruction stage and the balance and counting stage. There are four specific clues the officers are looking for. The officers are trained that observations of two or more of the clues will show it is likely the person is over a BAC of 0.10 and according to NHTSA the test is show to be accurate 65 percent of the time. The clues are as follows

  • Sways while balancing
  • Uses arms to balance
  • Hops
  • Puts foot down

2. Preliminary breath testing – This is the handheld breath test administered in the field. Generally is voluntary and is not reliable but the officer will use in making the arrest decision.

Above is a quick overview of the arrest decision and the standardized field sobriety tests as described by the NHTSA DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing February, 2006 Edition Student manual. If arrested in Washington for a DUI you should contact a qualified Washington DUI attorney immediately. Just because the officer has determined you had failed the tests does not mean the case is over. There are several ways to attack the SFSTs.  Attorney Joseph Rome has received the same training as the Officers and is qualified to administer the SFSTs. Attorney Rome also is a qualified instructor in the SFSTs and has trained other and has participate in several additional trainings involving the SFSTs including certification if Forensic Sobriety Assessment. Please contact the Law Offices of Joseph Rome to schedule a free consultation.