What are Field Sobriety Tests Administered by Police Today?


Do you the different field sobriety tests? There are a number of standard tests used for Field Sobriety Testing but the question here is how effective are they?You are not requires to take any of the field tests because they are considered to be voluntary. Let me repeat that.  You don’t have to take the field sobriety tests.  However, if you do choose to take a field test and performs poorly, the officer now has probable cause to arrest him or her for suspicion of driving under the influence.  The officer will rarely ask you if you want to take the test, they will usually just tell you to do it.

In 1982, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) established three official tests for police to evaluate your sobriety. Each officer must be trained before they can test your sobriety.

These NHTSA tests examine your coordination, balance, and dexterity, all of which are affected when you consume alcohol. These tests are designed to measure your ability to perform simple tasks simultaneously, since alcohol diminishes your ability to divide your attention amongst multiple tasks.

There are three NHTSA “standardized” field sobriety tests:

The One Legged Stand test

When properly administers this test is only 65% accurate in determining if your blood alcohol content is above .10% (the legal limit is .08 in New Jersey).  The officer must explain and demonstrate the test. You will be told to stand with your feet together and arms down at your sides.  Next, the officer instructs you to keep your hands at the sides and raise either leg six inches above the ground. You then count upwards starting at “one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three,” and so on until 1,030.

The officer is looking for:

  1. Swaying while balancing – Some swaying is natural, here the officer is looking for marked swaying, such as a back-and-forth movement.
  2. Using the arms to keep balance – raising your arms more than six inches from the side of your body.
  3. Hopping on the anchor foot in order to maintain balance – You can move the anchor foot slightly, but raising it off the ground is not allowed.
  4. Resting the raised foot on the ground three or more times during the required thirty seconds – you are considered unable to complete the test.

The one-leg stand test must be performed on dry, hard, level land. If you are wearing heels above two inches, you can remove them. If you are elderly, have back, leg, or middle ear problems, and overweight you will have difficulty with this test even when sober.

The Walk and Turn Test

When properly administers this test is only 68% accurate in determining if your blood alcohol content is above .10% (the legal limit is .08 in New Jersey). This test has two parts.  First, you must place one foot in front of the other in a straight line with the heel of one foot touching the toes of the other. Second, the officer demonstrates and explains that you must take nine heel-to-toe steps down the line. After the ninth step, you must turn around, taking a series of small steps, and return to where you started by taking another nine heel-to-toe steps.  During the walk, you must keep your hands at the side, watch the feet at all times, and count each step aloud. You are not supposed to stop until the test is done.

The officer is looking for the following:

  1. Inability to stay balanced while receiving instructions
  2. Starting or stopping the test before indicated
  3. Failure to touch heel-to-toe
  4. Stepping off of the line
  5. Using arms to balance
  6. Improperly turning
  7. Using the incorrect number of steps

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

When properly administers this test is only 77% accurate in determining if your blood alcohol content is above .10% (the legal limit is .08 in New Jersey). Nystagmus is the technical term for involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eyeball. It occurs when there is an irregularity in the inner ear system or a problem affecting the oculomotor control of the eye. A horizontal gaze nystagmus is a lateral or horizontal jerking movement when a person looks toward the side.  The officer positions an object, usually a pen or a finger, about one foot from your face and then moves the object from one side to another while observing your eye movements. The officer tries to estimate the angle at which the jerking movements begin. Jerking movements before your gaze reaches a 45-degree angle is indicative of a possible blood alcohol content level over .05%. The officer also checks the eye’s stability when the gaze is as far to the side as it can go.  The problem is officers are not medically trained.  Their ability to assess the angle when nystagmus begins is often skewed.  Also, there are many causes for nystagmus and alcohol is only one of them.

In case you missed it, studies have shown that the One legged Stand is wrong 35% of the time, the Walk and Turn Test 32% of the time, and the HGN test 23% of the time!  This is compounded by any balancing issues; injuries to back, legs, knees, or ankles; over age; or advanced age.  These tests are not designed to help you.  Don’t take them.

There are other tests available, such as the Chemical Blood Test that we will discuss in more detail in our next blog.

Free Resources for you

If you are charged with a DUI you need to know your options before going to court.  On this page you will see an offer for my books, click the link, put your name and contact information and we will give you these books free:

  1. Arrested for Drunk Driving?  Learn how to Beat the Odds – Here I discuss defense strategies, and common mistakes I see other attorneys make in defending these complicated cases.  I also list for your question you should ask any attorney that you interview for your defense.
  2. Why Pleading Guilty to Your New Jersey Traffic Ticket is NOT an Option – Here I discuss court process and violations, including DUI’s.  There lots of case examples here.
  3. An Immigrant’s Guide to Municipal Court.  This discusses specifically what you will encounter in  Municipal Court if you aren’t a U.S. citizen and how it can result in removal proceedings in Immigration Court.  I define important terms and guide you through the Municipal Court and Immigration Court process.

If you have DUI or Traffic offenses questions, we have answers.  You can,

  1. Call 888-695-6169 to speak to our knowledgeable staff;
  2. Fill out the contact us form on this page;
  3. Select the live chat feature to speak to someone right away.

We help DUI defendants, one court case at a time.

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