Are Field Sobriety Tests Accurate?

If you have been pulled over by an officer for suspected DUI, you have probably been asked to take a field sobriety test. These tests typically precede Breathalyzer tests and can allow law enforcement to observe a driver’s balance, physical ability, level of attention, and other factors that may indicate whether or not the driver is under the influence of alcohol. But are these tests always accurate? The short answer is no.

What is Included in a Field Sobriety Test?

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) that is endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) consists of three parts:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: When the eye gazes to the side, it naturally undergoes an involuntary jerking action. This action can be exaggerated in a person who has had too much to drink. Officers will look for three signs of impairment in each eye, including difficulty smoothly following a moving object, distinct eye jerking when the eye is at its maximum deviation, and eye jerking within 45 degrees of center.
  • One leg stand: Drivers are asked to stand on one leg with the other lifted about six inches off the ground, and are asked to count to 30 seconds. Possible signs of impairment can include swaying or using arms while trying to balance, or hopping or putting the foot down.
  • Walk and turn: The officer will ask the suspect to complete the task of taking nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return the same way in the other direction.

Are These Tests Scientifically Accurate?

Although these tests seem straight forward, they have no scientific basis and are often too subjective to be foolproof. Consider, for example, an experiment conducted by Dr. Spurgeon Cole of Clemson University. In this study, Dr. Cole asked a group of police officers to watch videos of drunk driving suspects performing the sobriety tests and were asked to identify those who they thought were too drunk to drive. Officers incorrectly determined that the subjects were intoxicated nearly half of the time, even though all of the participants were completely sober with .00 BACs. This is especially problematic when you consider that if this had been under normal circumstances, these people could have been arrested for a crime they did not commit.

Some argue that a suspect’s performance on the test could also be influenced by other factors, including age, weight, weather conditions, medical conditions, and even the type of shoes they are wearing, which may make the tasks of the tests difficult to perform even when completely sober. Several people feel as though these tests are designed to make people fail, and many DUI attorneys agree that the test’s methods are not accurate enough to determine intoxication.

If you are facing DUI charges, don’t lose hope – contact a lawyer from our firm as soon as possible. Depending on the facts of your case, we may be able to reduce or eliminate your charges. To schedule your free case evaluation, please contact the Norfolk DUI lawyers from Curcione Law, PLC by calling (757) 777-9207.

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