The Controversy Surrounding Field Sobriety Tests: Are They Reliable?

by mightymidnighty on June 17, 2013

Police officers have a variety of methods available to them when it comes to determining whether or not a driver is intoxicated and driving under the influence. Out of all of these methods, however, many officers use a field sobriety test as a preliminary examination in making this determination. While this test remains a commonly used tool in deterring drunk driving, its validity is now being called into question. Evidence now suggests that field sobriety tests are highly unreliable and perhaps should not be used at all.  As the public becomes more aware of the challenges behind this test, they are encouraged to take several key facts into consideration. 

No Set Standard for Scoring

Many people would think that officers adhere to a rigid scoring standard when administering this test.  According to lawyers at Tenn And Tenn, P.A., a DUI stop may result from an officer observing the driver speeding, swerving and/or not complying with traffic signs. However, it comes as a surprise to many that officers have no standard when it comes to determining whether or not a person passes or fails a field sobriety test. Every officer can use his or her own judgment and make the final call about whether or not a driver is free to go or must undergo further testing or even be subject to arrest. Because no standard is enforced for field sobriety tests, critics argue that this examination is too subjective and open to interpretation. Without a set of rules for how this test is given and judged, drivers find themselves at the mercy of police officers.

Fear Rather Than Intoxication for Failing the Test

Even the most sober of drivers can fail a field sobriety test if they are under pressure and facing fearful circumstances. Standing on the shoulder of a road, trying to keep balance, walk in a straight line, or say the alphabet backwards while facing oncoming traffic can be scary, if not impossible. A person undergoing this test may be more afraid of an oncoming semi-truck or swerving car than trying to please the officer giving the test. Being afraid and under pressure can cause people to make mistakes and be misjudged as intoxicated. Their fear can cause them to be detained on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Road Conditions Can Cause Stumbling and Swaying

Most officers make the call for arresting a driver if he or she sways or stumbles during a field sobriety test.  However, stumbling and swaying during a test can easily be caused by rocks, pebbles, and even broken glass on the road. A person who is told to walk heel to toe over rocks and pebbles could easily stumble and fall. He or she cannot keep properly balanced when walking in this manner over rocky roads. Likewise, if a person steps on a sharp object like a shard of glass, he or she may falter and be misjudged as drunk.

Improper Police Training

Many police departments openly admit that their officers’ training focuses less on giving these tests than it does on other aspects of law enforcement. Critics suggest that an officer’s poor training makes them unsuitable for giving field sobriety tests and subjecting drivers to scrutiny. Many drivers today get DUI charges dismissed because of this fact.

The reliability of field sobriety tests continues to be called into question. Drivers are advised to be aware of why these tests are faulty and why they could be misjudged as drunk.

Midnight Walker writes articles on DUI, driver safety and injury law. She is passionate about keeping drivers and their passengers safe on the roads. Injury lawyers, Tenn And Tenn, P.A. are experienced in helping their clients protect their rights under the law.


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