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Did you know sober people can fail field sobriety tests?

Are you under the impression that field sobriety tests are definitive indicators of intoxication? Do you believe that you are required to participate in these tests if asked by a police officer? If you answer yes to either or both of these questions, keep reading.

First, field sobriety tests are not as accurate as you think or police would have you believe. Second, you do not have to participate in these tests.

Test results are considered “good enough”

With your freedom at stake, you would think that field sobriety tests would be as close to 100% accurate as possible. Unfortunately, the numbers are nowhere close to that. Consider the following statistics regarding the most accurate of the standardized field sobriety tests, the one-leg stand test:

  • When different officers grade the same person, the results are only reliable around 34% to 60% of the time.
  • When individuals with the same blood alcohol content are tested, the results are only reliable about 61% to 72% of the time.
  • Even the governmental agencies that designed the tests accept that the tests are only reliable about 85% of the time.

As you can see, the accuracy of these tests is nowhere near 100%. Even when a conscientious officer with proper training conducts the tests, there is still a lot of room for error. Understanding that these tests are not as accurate as you may think may help explain why the law does not require you to participate in them.

Sober people fail field sobriety tests

At one point, the government conducted a study to determine just how accurate the one-leg stand test is. Test subjects were given the best opportunity to pass the test by putting them on a level floor with no distractions and good lighting. Officers then graded the performance of the participants. Shockingly, the officers administering the tests arrested approximately 47% of the sober participants, saying they failed the tests.

When it comes to your DUI stop, the conditions under which you would take the test are not going to be as favorable. Most likely, the conditions will include one or more of the following:

  • You are anxious and frightened.
  • It is most likely dark.
  • The surface may be uneven.
  • The patrol car’s lights are flashing.
  • The noise from traffic and other ambient noises make it difficult to hear.
  • You may have a medical condition, such as back problems, inner ear problems, low blood pressure and more, that affects your ability to balance on one leg.
  • Your general body statistics, such as age and weight, may also affect your test.

The above encompasses just some of the reasons why you could fail a field sobriety test even if you haven’t had anything to drink. For this reason, you may want to politely refuse to participate in these tests if an officer suspects you of impairment and wants to administer them. Of course, you may still find yourself under arrest for DUI if the officer believes he or she has enough probable cause for an arrest, but at least you are not providing the officer with any additional ammunition against you.


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