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Why might police misjudge field sobriety tests?

On Behalf of | Jan 18, 2024 | Drunk Driving

When the police pull over drivers on suspicion of drunk driving, they may test them. These tests are used to collect evidence against a driver. If the police don’t start with chemical sobriety tests, they may ask the driver to do field sobriety tests, first.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recognizes three kinds of standardized field sobriety tests:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test
  • One-legged stand test
  • Walk-and-turn test

Any other test may be considered non-standardized. For example, spelling the alphabet backward while having the driver put a finger on their nose could be considered a non-standardized test.

The police are looking for signs of inebriation. However, if a driver fails a field sobriety test, that doesn’t always mean they are inebriated. Here’s what you should know:

Certain conditions can affect driver performance

Many people have different kinds of physical and psychological conditions, that could affect the outcome of field sobriety tests.

During a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, for example, a driver is asked to focus their eyes on a moving object. Someone who has amblyopia, often called “lazy eye,” may struggle to focus both eyes on the object. Likewise, someone with attention deficiency/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may not be able to focus on a moving object for long.

A driver with a limp could fail a walk-and-turn test because they may wobble as they take each step. This wobbling could make it appear to the police that the driver is drunk. Likewise, a joint issue in the driver’s legs could make it hard for them to lift one leg during a one-legged stand test.

The police don’t always make these considerations when they ask drivers to do field sobriety tests. Drivers who believe they are wrongly facing legal charges may need to learn about their defense options.