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What drivers should know about field sobriety testing

On Behalf of | Jun 8, 2021 | DUI Defense

Not long ago, this Hamilton County legal blog offered a post about what can happen when a driver is stopped on suspicion of drunk driving. Among the many things that can happen during this stressful and difficult experience is a driver’s participation in field sobriety testing. Though tests may differ throughout the state and country, the goal of field sobriety tests is to reveal whether a driver’s physical condition and focus are affected by alcohol.

This post will provide readers with some information about common field sobriety tests that they may be subjected to if they are ever stopped on suspicions of drunk driving. It will also discuss common reasons that sober drivers are arrested for drunk driving based on the faulty administration of field sobriety tests. No part of this post should be read as legal advice, and when drivers have been arrested based on the results of field sobriety testing, they should understand they may have defenses to their drunk driving charges. Criminal defense attorneys can provide their clients with case specific support to help them address their pending criminal matters.

What are field sobriety tests?

As mentioned, field sobriety tests are physical assessments that drivers may be asked to perform if they are stopped on suspicion of drunk driving. These tests challenge drivers’ concentration, focus, balance, coordination, and other physical attributes. Generally, individuals who are inebriated may struggle to complete field sobriety tests and may therefore provide law enforcement officers with evidence of inebriation to support arrests for alleged drunk driving.

Common field sobriety tests are the one leg stand, the walk and turn test, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. The one leg stand requires an individual to lift one foot off the ground and hold their balance while standing on one foot. The walk and turn test requires an individual to walk in a straight line, heel to toe, and then turn and return to their starting point on the same line. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test requires an individual to look to the side and have their eye movement observed by a trained law enforcement official.

How field sobriety tests can go wrong

In theory, field sobriety tests should help law enforcement officials distinguish sober drivers from intoxicated drivers. However, not all field sobriety tests are administered by law enforcement officials who are properly-trained and knowledgeable about their administration and assessment. When a law enforcement official does not know how to assess a driver subjected to field sobriety testing, they may decide an otherwise sober driver is affected based on the results of their testing.

Similarly, field sobriety testing should consider the conditions in which a driver is asked to perform their tests. A driver who must complete physical challenges on unstable or uneven ground may struggle to balance and coordinate their movement because of the conditions they are on. Also, drivers with medical conditions that may impact their movement or coordination may be adversely impacted by field sobriety testing and wrongfully accused of drunk driving when they are unaffected my alcohol.

There are many ways that field sobriety tests may provide law enforcement officials with wrong results. When facing drunk driving accusations based on faulty field sobriety test assessments, individuals can seek legal counsel from knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers for help with their cases.