How do roadside DUI tests work?

On Behalf of | Apr 13, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

When a Virginia police officer makes a traffic stop, numerous issues may arise. In some cases, a traffic officer might issue a warning to a driver and nothing more. Other traffic stops result in traffic tickets or other traffic violations. Then there are the more complex cases, such as when a police officer suspects DUI.  

If that is the case, the deputy the driver might be asked to exit the vehicle and take a breath test, field sobriety test, or both. Failing any of these tests constitutes probable cause to make a DUI arrest. It is critical to understand what a police officer is observing or checking during preliminary alcohol screenings as part of a Virginia traffic stop. 

A roadside DUI breath test is not the same as a chemical Breathalyzer test 

Virginia motorists are not obligated to take a breath test during a traffic stop. This test device detects alcohol in a person’s breath but cannot measure blood alcohol content (BAC). Drivers do not have to take field sobriety tests, either, which typically include the walk-and-turn test, one-leg stance and horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. In the first two, police monitor whether an individual loses balance or has difficulty following simple instructions. The HGN test is an eye test that monitors nystagmus, a jerking movement that is apparent in an intoxicated person’s eyes when an object is tracked without moving the head. 

A DUI arrest will likely occur if a driver agrees to take a breath test or field sobriety test during a Virginia traffic stop and fails. However, an arrest might still take place even if a driver declines to take preliminary screening tests if a police officer finds probable cause some other way (like finding open containers of alcohol in the vehicle or smelling it on a driver’s breath). When an individual is detained by law enforcement, a motorist is wise to request immediate legal support.