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Why Field Sobriety Tests May Produce Inaccurate Results

Field sobriety tests, also referred to as roadside sobriety tests, involve assessments of drivers’ coordination and physical control by law enforcement officials. Police and other law enforcement personnel execute these tests when they suspect that drivers may be under the influence of alcohol. In North Carolina a driver may be asked to complete a set of field sobriety tests if they exhibit erratic or unsafe driving.

There are different tests that law enforcement officials may use during field sobriety testing but the most common assessments include the one-leg stand, walk and turn, and horizontal gaze nystagmus. The one-leg stand requires a person to stand on one leg and hold their balance while the walk and turn test requires a person to walk in a straight line, turn, and walk back to their starting point.

These tests supposedly show law enforcement officials if drivers are unable to control their movements. However, it is important for drivers to recognize that other factors may impact their capabilities to perform these tests well. Exhaustion may impair a person’s capacity to stand on one leg without falling, just as a medical condition may prevent a person from walking and turning without fault.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test presents its own challenges for drivers as well. This assessment requires participants to look to the side as law enforcement officials assess the movement of their eyes. Often drivers are asked to follow an object with their eyes and if jerking movement is noted it may be assessed as a sign of impairment. An officer who is not properly trained to assess this test may improperly accuse someone of drunk driving based on their own errors.

Field sobriety tests give officers and prosecutors evidence of intoxication to convict drivers of impaired driving. However, this evidence is not always accurate or representative of the drivers’ true conditions. Support from a DUI defense attorney may help a driver overcome improper field sobriety test evidence during their drunk driving trials.