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The truth about field sobriety tests

On Behalf of | Feb 5, 2015 | Drunk Driving

If you had a few drinks before getting behind the wheel of your car, being stopped by a police officer can be the beginning of a nightmare. The penalties for operating under the influence in Florida can include fines, license suspension or revocation, and imprisonment. Fortunately, the law offers some protection against police officers stopping you arbitrarily.

When police stop your vehicle on suspicion of DUI, one method they frequently use to support the belief that your abilities to drive are diminished by the consumption of alcohol is the field sobriety test. In actuality, roadside sobriety testing is usually three separate tests recommended by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration that police can use prior to administering a post-arrest breath test to measure your blood alcohol content level.

Field sobriety tests are designed to observe the balance, attention and reflexes of a person suspected of drunk driving. The standardized tests include:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus or eye gaze test
  • Walk-and-turn
  • One-leg stand

The horizontal gaze nystagmus is designed to reveal indicators of alcohol impairment as the driver attempts to follow an object, such as a pen, without any head movement. As the eyes track the movement of the object, an officer will observe a jerking eye-motion or an inability to smoothly follow the object.

The walk-and-turn tests a person’s ability to follow directions and to complete multiple tasks. A driver is asked to walk in a heel-to-toe manner along a straight line for a specific number of steps, then to turn on one foot and repeat the process in the opposite direction.

The last test, the one-leg stand, tests an individual’s ability to balance while standing on only one foot. Someone with a BAC higher than the legal limit will probably have difficulty performing this task without swaying or having visible difficulty maintaining balance.

Although roadside sobriety test results are routinely used in court by police to establish probable cause for DUI charges, they are not 100 percent accurate. If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated after field sobriety testing, a Hillsborough criminal defense firm might be of assistance to you.