Field Sobriety Tests: What You Need To Know - Sparrow Law Firm

We often read stories about people who are pulled over and display fairly obvious signs of intoxication, from extremely slurred speech, incoherence and an inability to stand without help. But these drivers typically are found to be far above the legal limit and likely knew they were impaired by alcohol.

However, there are plenty of other people who do not think they are legally drunkwhen they get behind the wheel or do not feel impaired. When these drivers are pulled over, police typically have to work harder to confirm intoxication and they will use all the tools at their disposal to do so. One such tool is field sobriety testing.

Field sobriety tests are highly subjective, non-scientific means of judging a person’s impairment. They have been criticized by some as poor indicators of intoxication, but they are still used quite often in traffic stops. The tests are administered by a police officer, and based on how a person performs, that officer decides whether he or she has passed or failed. Unfortunately, these tests generally work against the person taking them.

There are three parts to standardized field sobriety tests:

  1. Horizontal gaze nystagmus test: This test allows an officer to look for any involuntary jerking of the eye which may be a sign of intoxication.
  2. The walk-and-turn test: This test is performed to observe a person’s ability to follow instructions, balance and walk in a straight line all at the same time.
  3. One-leg stand test: This test primarily measures balance by having a person stand with one leg on the ground and the other held one foot in the air for at least 30 seconds.

While observing a person taking these tests, officers are supposed to look for indications of impairment. However, this is quite subjective and there may be other reasons that a person would apparently fail these tests which can lead to a false-positive result.

In our next post, we will take a closer look at some of these other reasons as well as why it can be so important for people accused of DWI to challenge preliminary sobriety tests.