Michael A. Ferraro, Esq., P.C.
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How accurate are field sobriety tests?

On Behalf of | Feb 24, 2021 | DWI defense |

Imagine you’re driving home on a Saturday night. It’s getting late, and you are tired when you suddenly see police lights in your rearview mirror. Your mind races, thinking about the drinks you had at dinner and how long ago that was. You think, “Was I speeding? Did I swerve or turn without signaling? Will I get a DWI?” all while you try to find a safe place to pull over.

Now imagine being asked to perform a series of field sobriety tests. Under such stressful circumstances, how accurate could these tests possibly be?

Purpose and accuracy of the tests

Field sobriety tests are subjective measures that detect signs that a person is intoxicated. They consist of three elements

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

These components give police officers the opportunity to assess a person’s ability to balance and follow directions. They also allow an officer to better observe a person’s physical condition outside of the vehicle.

The tests are not perfect.

Reasons why a sober person might fail these tests include:

  • Being on certain medications
  • Having a medical condition that might mimic signs of intoxication (slurred speech or poor balance)
  • Receiving poor instructions from police
  • Language barriers
  • Uneven or wet road

An officer might also administer the test incorrectly or draw inaccurate conclusions.

So, should I take the tests?

New Yorkers have the right to refuse to take field sobriety tests, and there can be valid reasons for doing so. However, refusing does not mean the police will simply let you go because they cannot assess you through these measures.

An officer can still arrest a driver if there is probable cause, and the refusal to take field sobriety tests could be used against the driver if the case goes to court.

If you refuse the field sobriety tests, do so respectfully and politely. If you take the tests, keep in mind the complications that could affect your performance. Notify the police of any medical conditions. Take note of conditions like poor visibility or dangerous road surfaces.

And perhaps most importantly, remember that even if the officer says you failed the tests, it does not mean you are guilty of drunk driving. You have the right to defend yourself against these charges and challenge the validity of these and other sobriety tests.