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Field sobriety tests and why they are not always accurate

On Behalf of | Jan 6, 2024 | Criminal Defense

If you are a licensed driver in Texas, you are probably aware that it is both illegal and dangerous to drive while under the influence of alcohol. Police forces across the state are making efforts to keep the roads safe by cracking down on drunk drivers. As a result, DUI arrests seem to be on the rise. If an officer pulls you over and suspects that you may be under the influence, he or she may arrest you, put you into a police car and transport you to the nearest jail or police station.  

Understandably, this can be a terrifying and anxiety-filled experience, especially if it is your first time going through something like this. If an officer thinks you may be driving impaired, he or she will usually try to get you to go through a series of field sobriety tests for intoxication to establish probable cause before arresting you. However, these tests can be subjective and their accuracy is debatable 

Standard Field Sobriety Test 

The Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is an exam that consists of three different tests: the walk-and-turn, the one-leg stand and the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN). In the past, there were several different tests to determine impairment. However, after some research, these three tests had the best results for determining intoxication when administered together. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed strict protocols so that the instructions and scoring for these tests are the same regardless of who is administering them. 

Non-Standardized Field Sobriety Tests 

If an officer suspects you are under the influence, they can also choose to give you non-standardized field sobriety tests. A common example of a non-standardized test is the finger-count or divided attention test, which gauges your ability to follow instructions while performing a task. There is also the Romberg balance test, which evaluates your balance and neurological function. Studies for reliability do not exist for standardized field sobriety tests, and the results can vary, depending on who gives these tests. 

Are field sobriety tests accurate? 

Although police forces across the country use the Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) as evidence for your arrest, many researchers believe these tests are not accurate enough to determine an individual’s level of intoxication. For one, field sobriety tests can be subjective, and the officer who gives the tests also grades them. Apparently, one study found that, if you were to submit to field sobriety tests, the administering officer is more likely to overestimate your blood alcohol content (BAC). There have also been instances of suspected drunk drivers who supposedly failed field sobriety tests, and video evidence later revealed the suspect passed. 

What if you fail field sobriety tests? 

You may not know that field sobriety tests are optional, but if you refuse them, you can still face arrest. If an officer pulls you over, administers field sobriety tests and arrests and/or charges you, it is important to remember that there is hope. There are options available to help you defend against DUI charges