National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Study 1977

by ParkmanLawFirm on March 8, 2013

Over the years, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded research contracts to several organizations to determine the effectiveness of field sobriety tests.  The Southern California Research Institute did the first of the studies conducted.  Marcelline Burns was the director of Southern California Research Institute.

It was Burns understanding that the NHTSA was hoping to develop a battery of tests to help identify those individuals suspected of DUI.  The study determined that the most accurate tests were the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk-and-Turn and One-Leg Stand.  These three tests were chosen out of a possible battery of 16 tests.

At the time of the study, the legal limit for blood alcohol content was .10.  During the study, there were a total of 10 police officers and 238 subjects observed during the study.  It was found that 47% of the time, officers made an incorrect decision to arrest.  This means that during the study, 47% of the time a person was arrested for driving under the influence when their blood alcohol content was below the legal limit.

Burns attempted to explain the 47% fail rate.  Burns’ explanation was that the officers chosen for the study were all inexperienced officers.  When I was in school, a 47% fail rate would have gotten you a failing grade in any class.  When compared to a class, taking a person’s liberties away should require a greater level of accuracy.  These tests are still the tests used by the Birmingham Police Department and other surrounding law enforcement agencies.  Individuals arrested for DUI should contact a DUI attorney at Parkman & White, LLC to determine whether any mistakes occurred with their field sobriety tests.


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