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Are field sobriety tests accurate?

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2024 | DUI/OWI

Field sobriety tests are physical tests that a police officer can have a driver carry out on the side of the road. This usually happens if the officer suspects that the driver is under the influence of alcohol. Maybe the officer pulled the driver over for a minor traffic infraction and then smelled alcohol on their breath, so the field sobriety tests are a way of gauging impairment.

This means that these tests are quite important, and failing them could result in arrest. That makes you think that they must be incredibly accurate since people’s very freedom hangs in the balance. Is that actually the case?

Field sobriety tests often get it wrong

Unfortunately, that is not true. Studies have found that field sobriety tests are wrong frequently. The accuracy rates for the three main tests are as follows:

  1. Horizontal-gaze-nystagmus test: 77 percent 
  2. Walk-and-turn test: 68 percent 
  3. One-leg-stand test: 65 percent 

So how should police officers ensure that they are actually arresting someone who is impaired? The tests can be a bit more accurate if all three of them are used together. 

Additionally, officers may need to provide other evidence of impairment. If someone just fails a field sobriety test, they may claim that they were just sick or that they are actually uncoordinated. But if they fail all three field tests after causing an accident, and they have a breath test reading that shows alcohol in their system, then the police have much more evidence of actual impairment.

Are you facing arrest and wondering what to do next? Never assume that it guarantees a conviction, and begin looking into your legal options.