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Do field sobriety tests actually work?


When a police officer pulls you over on suspicion of driving under the influence, there are two main ways that he or she determines if you’re impaired. The first is a portable breath test and the second is a set of field sobriety tests.

Some of the tests you hear about don’t really see use, such as making someone recite the alphabet backwards. The main three tests officers actually use are the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test and the one-leg stand test.

But how reliable are these three tests? If you’re sober, could you still fail them?

The accuracy rates are certainly not 100%

First and foremost, none of these tests are 100% accurate. Here are the accuracy rates from one study:

  1. Horizontal gaze nystagmus: 77%
  2. Walk and turn: 68%
  3. One-leg stand: 65%

This shows that you definitely could fail the tests while sober. For instance, if you’re suffering from a work-related leg injury, can you do the one-leg stand? If it’s dark outside and it’s difficult to see, can you do the walk and turn? You may try your best, seeking to prove that you’re not impaired, and still fail the tests.

Then what should you do?

If this happens to you, don’t assume that you’re out of options or that you have to face the legal ramifications of a drunk driving charge. The courts know that field sobriety tests can fail. You just need to know what legal steps to take as your case moves forward and you get closer to that initial court date.

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