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Can Ohio drivers refuse to perform field sobriety tests?

On Behalf of | May 17, 2024 | Criminal Defense

People often become quite anxious during a drunk driving traffic stop. Whether an officer pulls over an individual because of their conduct or a driver encounters a sobriety checkpoint, they likely feel very nervous about having a police officer evaluate them for signs of intoxication.

Police officers often use a combination of questioning tactics and testing to evaluate someone’s sobriety and establish the justification they require to arrest an individual for impaired driving. Part of that process typically involves having someone exit their vehicle and perform field sobriety tests.

Are those often-embarrassing tests mandatory during a drunk driving traffic stop?

Drivers can decline field sobriety tests

People are often unsure of their rights during an encounter with law enforcement professionals. They may unintentionally put themselves at a disadvantage by being overly-compliant with an officer’s requests. A combative attitude is rarely beneficial for someone under suspicion of drunk driving. That being said, going too far to please a police officer can be equally inappropriate. Drivers do not have to agree to step out of their vehicles and perform standardized field sobriety tests just because an officer thinks they may have had something to drink.

They have the right to decline field sobriety tests. Some people fail to understand this because they know about the Ohio implied consent law. Technically, drivers in Ohio do sometimes need to submit to chemical testing. When an officer has the grounds to arrest someone for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol (OVI) charges, they can demand a breath test as part of that process.

The implied consent rule only applies to chemical testing when an officer has reason to arrest someone. It does not apply to field sobriety testing. Therefore, people can refuse to exit their vehicles or to perform physical tasks without risking immediate arrest or enhanced penalties. Particularly when a driver knows they have a medical condition that may affect their coordination or conduct in a high-stress situation, refusing to perform a field sobriety test may be in their best interests.

Knowing the rules that apply during drunk driving traffic stops and field sobriety tests can help people better assert themselves. Motorists who use their rights are less likely to face unnecessary arrest and prosecution after an Ohio traffic stop.