The Standardized Field Sobriety Test and Why it Doesn’t Work

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test and Why it Doesn’t Work

In Nevada, drivers who are pulled over for driving under the influence (DUI) may be asked by the officer to take a Standardized Field Sobriety Test.  When a driver agrees to submit to this type of examination, he or she will perform certain movements and tasks so that the officer can better assess the individuals’ sobriety.  However, a driver who allows themselves to be evaluated in this manner is taking a tremendous risk.   Here is what you need to know about what Field Sobriety Test involves and why they are ineffective.

What is a Standard Field Sobriety Test?

Standard Field Sobriety Tests refer to three different ways in which an officer can evaluate a driver’s intoxication.  These tests, developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1975 were initially implemented by law enforcement throughout the country beginning in 1981.

There are typically a series of three exams which can be conducted at a traffic stop to determine the driver’s impairment: (1) the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN); (2) the walk-and-turn test, and (3) the one-leg stand test.

  • The HGN Test involves the evaluating officer observing the subject’s eye movement for physical signs of inebriation such as not being able to track an object’s horizontal path.
  • During the walk and turn test, the participant is asked to take nine steps while touching their heel to toe in a straight line. Once the steps are taken, he or she must turn and repeat the action in the opposite direction. The examiner will watch for several indications of impairment such as poor balance and not being able to follow instructions.
  • As it sounds, the one-leg stand test requires the subject to stand on one leg for a certain amount of time while the officer watches to see if he or she loses their balance or fails to maintain the directed position.

What is Wrong with a Standard Field Sobriety Test?

According to the NHTSA, when law enforcement first began using these tests the national blood alcohol concentration for DUI was 0.10 on average.  Today, in many states including Nevada, the BAC for DUI is now 0.08, 0.04 for commercial drivers, and 0.02 for underage drivers.  Although NHTSA data claims the tests are still effective, in remains questionable whether the examinations can accurately assess inebriation at today’s levels.

One of the primary problems associated with standard field sobriety tests is that they rely heavily on the subjective impressions of the officer examining the subject.  The officer already has it in mind that the driver is impaired and may be inclined towards bias.  Further, the driver is at the mercy of the expertise and accuracy of the officer performing the test.  As with anything dependent on human perception, observations can and will often be wrong.  These types of tests also fail to account for numerous conditions such as the individual’s physical abilities, health, fatigue and the environment.  There can also be issues with the subject’s intellectual functioning or mental health or they may be responding poorly due to the officer’s inappropriate or intimidating behavior.

Fortunately, if you are pulled over by an officer under suspicion for DUI, you do not have to submit to a standard field sobriety test.  However, even when you refuse to be evaluated in this manner, you may still be arrested for DUI.

If you’ve been arrested for a DUI or DWI, in Nevada you need the proven expertise of an experienced DUI attorney.  At the Law Office of Darren Weiss, we are here to provide you with the advocacy you need.   Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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