Field sobriety tests – can they be trusted?

Field sobriety tests are common during traffic stops, but they may not be accurate. A sober driver may wrongfully end up with DUI charges.

During the summer, authorities will be on high alert in Connecticut and elsewhere in the country for drunk drivers. Many people get behind the wheel after drinking during summer festivities, which is good reason for law enforcement to be vigilant. One of the methods police officers use to determine if a driver has been drinking is the field sobriety test. However, there are those who would dispute the accuracy of such tests, especially when compared with the results of a chemical test.

What will I be asked to do during a field sobriety test?

Standard field sobriety tests, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, consist of numerous physical actions, which may give an officer clues as to whether the driver has alcohol in his or her system. These tests include the following:

  • Walk-and-turn - During this test, the driver will need to walk in a straight line and then turn and walk back in the same direction.
  • One-leg stand - This test requires the driver to stand on one leg while counting for a specified period of time, without losing his or her balance.
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus - The police officer looks into the driver's eyes during this portion of the test to check for eye movement that is typical of intoxication.

These tests, as well as the driver's speech and behavior patterns, rely upon a police officer's personal judgment, rather than chemical results, to conclude whether the person had been driving drunk.

I was arrested after a field sobriety test, but I wasn't drunk. How could this happen?

Many people may have difficulties passing a field sobriety test, according to a report from ABC Action News. For example, it is not always easy for people to keep their balance on one leg or while walking in a deliberate, slow line, especially if they naturally have problems balancing or are older. Others who are suffering from an injury or physical condition, such as obesity or arthritis, may have problems walking. The complications resulting from a mild stroke or a speech impediment may lead an officer to believe the driver is intoxicated. A driver could also fail a field sobriety test simply by being nervous and feeling put on the spot.

In one experiment, reported NBC 29 News, three people agreed to take a field sobriety test while sober. They each said after the test that they either had trouble balancing or understanding directions. All of them agreed that it could be easy for someone to be charged with a crime despite not having had anything to drink.

If you were charged with drunk driving after a field sobriety test, you will need an advocate on your side. It may help to speak with an experienced DUI defense attorney in Stamford.