Field sobriety tests aren't a perfect science

When a police officer thinks you were driving under the influence, the first move is often to have you do field sobriety tests. The most common ones are the walk and turn, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the one-leg stand.

However, studies have found that none of these tests boast a perfect record. They can get you arrested, but that does not mean you were intoxicated. In some cases, police admit that they arrest drivers who wind up getting acquitted in court.

Subjective tests

One potential issue is that the test is subjective. It is up to the officer to decide if you passed or not. While everything seems straightforward when the tests get planned out or when officers get trained, it's different when the officer and the driver are standing on a dark roadside at two in the morning, traffic cruising by just a few feet away.

Did you actually fail that one-leg-stand, or did the officer just think you did because visibility is low and he or she already assumed you were drunk?

Assumptions of skill

Another possible issue is that the test assumes you have a certain set of skills, which you may not actually have.

For instance, one sober woman took the walk-and-turn test and said it was hard for those who did not inherently have good balance. They struggled with the test even if they had not been drinking. She said it was a serious disadvantage.

Another sober woman took the one-leg-stand test and claimed she had good balance. She still said it was tough.

So, if balance is something you have struggled with all your life, you could fail that test even when you're sober. What if you have complications, like minor balance issues from a traumatic brain injury suffered a decade ago? Could that lead to your arrest?

Outside influences

On top of that, drivers find themselves subjected to many influences, even if they have not been drinking. No one expects to get pulled over or plans ahead.

For example, one woman had to recite the alphabet as part of her test. She was completely sober, taking the test in a controlled environment. It should have been easy, but she made a mistake.

Why? She has two kids. She claimed she was sleep-deprived. She admitted it wasn't complicated, but that was enough to cause the mistake.

The police officer does not know your situation when you get pulled over. What types of outside forces could cause you to fail a test, especially when the officer gives it out on a roadside, in a high-stress environment?

Your rights

If you do find yourself under arrest for drunk driving this year, make sure you know all of your legal rights.

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