Field sobriety test accuracy may not be as accurate as expected

Field sobriety tests are frequently conducted by police officers. However, these tests may not be as accurate as chemical tests.

When a law enforcement officer suspects a person of driving while intoxicated, it is important to get accurate test results. Fast and easily obtainable results are also desirable, which may be one reason why field sobriety tests are common for those pulled over in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. However, many dispute the accuracy of such tests.

What is a field sobriety test?

Standardized field sobriety tests were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration so officers everywhere would have a standard, trained method of determining whether a driver may be drunk, without a chemical test. They involve the following three tests:

· One-leg stand. The driver must stand on one foot and count for a specified amount of time without losing balance.

· Walk-and-turn. The person must walk along a straight line, then turn and walk back in the opposite direction.

· Horizontal gaze nystagmus. The involuntary movements of the driver's eyes will be watched for signs of impairment.

Additionally, law enforcement officers use their personal judgment during these tests. They may consider such aspects as the driver's behavior, scent, speech and ability to follow directions as a basis for determining whether the person was drunk driving.

How accurate are these tests?

According to NBC 29 News, studies dispute the accuracy of field sobriety tests. In one such study, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test was the most reliable, albeit at 77 percent accuracy. Officers were correct 68 percent of the time with the walk-and-turn test and in only 65 percent of cases with the one-leg stand. Some claim that the field sobriety test was designed to make people fail, whether drunk or sober.

Can a sober person be arrested on suspicion of drunk driving?

Numerous conditions might look to an officer like intoxication, leading to an innocent driver being charged with a crime. For example, states ABC Action News, someone with an inner ear condition might have difficulty balancing or walking in a straight line. It could be difficult for an obese person or someone with an injury or illness to pass the physical portions of the test. A person with a speech impediment might be mistaken for having drunken, slurred speech. Those with cognitive conditions or simply extreme nervousness might have difficulty understanding directions or performing the steps correctly.

After an arrest, it is important to speak with an experienced DUI defense attorney in Pennsylvania. An attorney should be able to answer questions about the court process and attempt to protect and defend a client's rights.