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The role of the field sobriety test in DUI arrests

On Behalf of | Jan 20, 2022 | DUI

Although every situation is different, many drunk driving arrests first start off with a traffic stop. During the traffic stop, the attending officer will evaluate whether he or she should perform certain tests to determine whether a driver is inebriated. Chances are that if you have ever been involved in a traffic stop for a suspected DUI, an officer has asked you to perform a field sobriety test. 

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration — NHTSA — endorses the Standardized Field Sobriety Test — SFST. The SFST actually consists of three separate tests. These tests generally are not necessarily used to make a DUI arrest but are often a tool to determine whether something like blood-alcohol content testing is necessary. 

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test 

If an officer pulls you over on suspicion of drunk driving, he or she will likely ask you to perform three separate tasks as part of the SFST. These tests are typically performed prior to any type of BAC testing, such as Breathalyzer and blood tests. The three tests you will likely have to perform are: 

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus, which measures any exaggerated jerking in the eyes due to inebriation. 
  • The walk and turn, which measures your ability to perform more than one task with divided attention. 
  • The one-leg stand, which measures your ability to balance while standing on just one leg. 

These tests can be useful for identifying drunk drivers. However, they also overlook the fact that some people may not be able to complete these tasks even when sober. Drivers with disabilities or medical conditions may struggle with these tests through absolutely no fault of their own. 

Additional sobriety tests 

North Dakota police officers may also ask drivers to perform non-standard field sobriety tests. For example, an officer could ask you to stand with your feet together and then tip your head backwards to measure your stability. Counting the alphabet backwards, touching your finger to your nose with your eyes closed and counting an officer’s fingers are also common non-standardized tests. 

Prosecutors often point to field sobriety test results as definitive evidence of a DUI. However, police officers are only human and they do not always accurately interpret drivers’ performances. If you were charged with a DUI based on how you performed in a field sobriety test, you would be well advised to rigorously explore your options for re-evaluating the results. 


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