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Field Sobriety Tests: How effective are they?

The short answer is not completely.

Many factors can come into play that affect Field Sobriety Tests. In fact, it may be in your best interest to not take the Field Sobriety Test as these tests are voluntary.

The Field Sobriety Test measures:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus
  • One leg stand
  • Walk and turn

An officer may also indicate that he or she smelled alcohol, that the driver appeared drunk because of bloodshot eyes and an unstable gaze (such as blinking or closing eyes). But these do not necessarily indicate a driver has been drinking or is unable to drive a car. In fact, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the accuracy of these tests is about 80 percent. That means that roughly 20 percent of drivers who fail are not necessarily under the influence.

It is an officer's duty to pull over any driver they feel may be under the influence. However, even when an officer thinks he detects alcohol he may be mistaken.

Take as an example a person who works in a bar. Early in the morning after working a double shift she may drive home and because she is tired she may choose a quieter route than the freeway.

Having seen this driver exit the bar parking lot an officer may assume she was at the bar drinking. The officer pulls her over and indicates in his report that she smells like alcohol. This may be true but it may be because she has been bartending and beer and hard liquor spilled on her clothing.

The officer may indicate that her eyes are bloodshot. Again, this may be true, but red eyes may be due to her contact lenses being in for 15 hours. When the officer asks her to step out of her car, walk nine toe-to-heel steps and turn her steps may not be in a straight line because her feet hurt or the road is uneven. In fact, if the bar was loud her hearing may be affected and she may not hear the officer's exact instructions.

Field Sobriety Tests are voluntary and are not 100 percent accurate. Therefore refuse to take the Field Sobriety Test. If you are pulled over and fail the field sobriety test it is in your best interest to seek the counsel of an experienced DUI defense attorney.

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