Are Field Sobriety Tests Always Reliable?

sobriety testsIn a word, no. Field Sobriety Tests or FSTs are a series of tests that are intended to help an officer determine if a person is over the legal blood alcohol limit. Field sobriety tests are meant to check balance, coordination, cognitive function and other physical factors that are affected when a person is intoxicated. While there are several different tests that can be  used, there are only three that are actually standardized and approved for use by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA). These three tests are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, The Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand.  While these standardized tests are approved, how reliable are they when it comes to determining if a person is over the legal limit?

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

Not only is the HGN one of the most common field sobriety tests, but it can also be the most prone for error. Even officers who have undergone training can administer the test incorrectly, reducing the odds of determining if a person is drunk to essentially a coin toss. Another issue with the HGN is the officer is the only person to clearly see the eyes of the individual being tested, even if there is a dash cam mounted in the cruiser. This means that a jury has just as much trouble knowing how the defendant performed as the defendant does. The problem with this test is it is almost purely subject to the interpretation of the officer.

Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand

Alcohol affects many parts of the brain, but the central nervous system is hit the hardest. The CNS controls many functions of your body including balance. Both the walk and turn and the one leg stand tests are meant to test the sense of balance. The problem with both of these tests is that it doesn’t take into account age, weight, general coordination or physical injuries of a person. Someone who is older or overweight may have more difficulty standing on one leg. Someone who’s sober but has an inner ear infection can appear as intoxicated as someone staggering out of a bar. Wind, rain, snow and uneven ground can also affect the ability for a person to actually pass these tests.

In the end, there are simply too many variables for these tests to be considered even remotely accurate, which is a big part of the reason they’ve taken a back seat to chemical testing. A little known fact is that some states won’t even allow the results of FST’s in court. Even littler known is that, anyone over 21 years of age can actually decline to take these tests. If you get pulled over and are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) or driving while impaired by alcohol (DWI), it’s important to get help. The experienced DUI attorneys of Alpert Schreyer understand the difficulties of a DUI/DWI conviction and the impact it can have on your life and are here to help. Call today for a free consultation with one of their top attorneys.

About Andrew Alpert

+Andrew is one of the leading DUI and criminal defense attorneys in both the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. He blogs about Maryland DUI law, has numerous videos on the subject and has been asked to appear on national television to offer his legal opinion on high-profile criminal cases.