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Are field sobriety tests accurate?

If you are ever pulled over for suspected drunk driving, you may be asked to perform a few tests in order for the officer to check for impairment. These are field sobriety tests and they are standard procedure in North Carolina and elsewhere. While that may be so, are they accurate?

You always hear about how inaccurate Breathalyzers tests may be, but what about the other sobriety tests? While they serve a purpose, experts agree that they may not be 100 percent accurate. In fact, they are very subjective in nature because they depend on the administering officer's opinion and understanding of the test.

One-leg stand

There are three standardized field sobriety tests. One of them is the one-leg stand. During this test, an officer will ask you to stand on one leg while lifting the opposite foot off the ground. You cannot use your arms to balance you, you cannot hop, sway or put your foot down. Any of these actions may result in a test fail.

Horizontal gaze nystagmus

This test involves moving your eyes. A police officer will ask you to follow his or her finger or the tip of a pen. While you do this, the officer will look for:

  • Your ability to follow the finger or pen smoothly
  • A specific jerk when the eye reached the max deviation
  • Eye-jerking when the eye reached 45 degrees from its centered position

The eye jerks are generally exaggerated in those who are impaired, and someone under the influence may not be able to follow an object smoothly.

Walk and turn

Finally, the walk and turn test is one that most people know about. It is often shown in television shows or movies. When performing this test, you need to walk a straight line, heel to toe, turn and walk the straight line back to your starting point. Going off the line or losing one's balance are signs of impairment.

Accuracy and fighting results

There are a number of things that can skew the results of these field sobriety tests. Some include a person's weight, physical health, shoes, medications and terrain. If you fail a field sobriety test, it may not be the end of the world. With the assistance of legal counsel, you can question the administration of the tests, which may end up helping you fight your drunk driving charge.

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Are field sobriety tests accurate? | Messer Law Firm