Are Roadside Sobriety Tests Reliable?

By Jonathan Blecher on December 20, 2022

Roadside sobriety exercises, also known as field sobriety tests, are used by law enforcement officers to determine if a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. These tests are often administered during a traffic stop if an officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence.

There are three standardized field sobriety tests that have been validated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. These tests are designed to measure a person’s balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions.

However, it is important to note that these tests are not foolproof and their reliability can be questionable. Factors such as the officer’s training and administration of the test, the driver’s physical abilities and medical conditions, and the road and weather conditions can all affect the results of the test.

In addition, research has shown that field sobriety tests are not always accurate in determining impairment. A study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences found that the overall accuracy of the one-leg stand and walk-and-turn tests was only around 65-77%, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test had an accuracy rate of around 88%.

It is also worth noting that some people may have difficulty completing these tests due to physical limitations or medical conditions, even if they are not impaired. This can lead to false positives, where a person is incorrectly deemed impaired when they are not.

Overall, while field sobriety tests can be a useful tool for law enforcement, it is important to consider the limitations and potential biases when evaluating their reliability. If you have been charged with a DUI based on the results of a field sobriety test, it is important to consult with a qualified attorney to discuss your legal options.

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