Are field sobriety tests always accurate?

If you are pulled over and suspected of driving drunk, the officer will likely administer field sobriety tests. These tests are used by law enforcement agents to highlight or reveal signs that a person may be intoxicated. Should a person fail these tests, he or she could be arrested for suspected drunk driving.

However, FSTs have come under fire over the years because “failing” the tests is not necessarily an indication that a person is drunk. In fact, so-called failures could be inevitable.

To look at this issue more closely, let’s examine each of the three tests individually.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test requires a person to follow a moving object with his or her eyes. Police are looking for a jerking movement in the eye that can be triggered by intoxication. However, there are eye conditions and medications that could cause similar movement, which could be mistaken for intoxication.

The walk-and-turn test requires a person to walk nine steps then turn around and walk back. This test allows police to examine a person’s ability to follow directions and balance. However, various conditions could result in a failure of this test, even for a person who is completely sober. Attention disorders, vertigo and even ear infections could cause a person to fail this test.

The one-leg stand test again measures a person’s balance and also shows his or her ability to divide their attention between different tasks. Everything from the road surface and a person’s footwear to various learning disorders could wrongly lead someone to suspect drunkenness.

Further, it should be noted that these tests rely on the subjective opinion and the training of the individual officer administering the test. What one officer might judge to be a failure could be considered passing by someone else’s standards.

With all this in mind, we want to urge people not to panic if they are told they failed the field sobriety tests. Failure is not proof of intoxication. However, additional testing can be more precise, so it is generally wise to consult an attorney as soon as possible in the event that you are suspected of driving drunk.