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The problem with field sobriety tests

When police suspect that someone is driving under the influence, they may use a breath test to undergo an evaluation. However, before a breath test is administered, law enforcement often uses other tests to determine if someone was driving under the influence.

It’s more likely that police will use Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST), consisting of three commonly used tests. These tests are endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, these tests have a major flaw that people don’t typically talk about.

Here’s what you should know:

3 common field sobriety tests

To better understand the difficulties of field sobriety tests, it may be important to understand what a driver may have to undergo. As stated above, law enforcement may use three commonly used field sobriety tests: horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk-and-turn and one-legged stand.

The following is how these tests work:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN): Police may ask a driver to follow a single point with their eyes without turning their head. Police frequently look for any deviations that might indicate the driver is drunk, such as eye jerking or drifting.
  • Walk-and-turn (WAT): Police may have the driver walk in a straight line, following with a turn and returning to where they started. Any inability to complete the task, deviation from the line or tripping may indicate to police that the driver is inebriated.
  • One-legged stand (OLS): The driver may be asked, as the name suggests, to balance on one leg. Any swaying or difficulties maintaining balance may fail the test.

While these tests are commonly used, officers may use a series of non-standardized field sobriety tests.

Failing a sobriety test

While these tests may give law enforcement a better idea about a driver’s condition, they may not account for irregularities that might fail these tests if the driver is sober. One such example that an SFST could fail is if a driver has a medical vision impairment that causes them to fail a HGN test. Or, a driver could suffer from leg issues, creating difficulties during an WAT or OLS.

When a medical condition causes an inaccurate field sobriety test result, resulting in a DWI charge, it could result in legal fines and affect your driving record, needlessly.


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