DUI: 3 Types of Field Sobriety Tests and How They Work

by | Jun 28, 2018 | Recovery | 0 comments

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Home » Recovery » DUI: 3 Types of Field Sobriety Tests and How They Work

drunk drivingDriving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or narcotics is incredibly dangerous. It leads to many driving-related deaths each year. Unfortunately, many Americans still choose to get behind the wheel when they’re under the influence of various substances. They believe that they’re still able to make good decisions although this couldn’t be further from the truth. Those who are driving under the influence tend to have slower reaction times or make poorer decisions. They’re a liability to both themselves and others.
There are many DUI laws in place to deter Americans from driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. Those who are arrested for DUI in Florida can face both administrative and criminal penalties. A person who is arrested for driving while intoxicated can face jail time of up to 6 months for their first offense. The penalties become more serious for any consequent DUI arrests. Driving laws are extremely strict. A person convicted of drunk driving can lose their driver license and even face jail time.
Driving a vehicle while drunk is a serious criminal offense. After all, thousands of people each year are injured due to this reason. A drunk driver cannot operate any motor vehicles. Those who are convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) may be barred from driving. They may also see their car insurance rates skyrocket. After all, they are a huge liability for everyone on the road. It’s a huge traffic safety and public safety issue.

10,497 people died from alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2010. This accounts for 28% of all car accident deaths in the United States. Over 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. While that seems like a lot, it’s only 1% of the more than 111 million self-reported drunk driving incidents in America each year.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Police officers have the authority to stop any motor vehicles they suspect of committing a drunk driving offense. Breath testing via a breathalyzer is often used to test for sobriety. The test will look at the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) if the police officers suspect the driver of drunk driving.
In all 50 states, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.0 is considered to be the legal limit of driving under the influence (DUI). For commercial drivers, even a BAC of 0.04 can result in a DUI or DWI conviction nationwide. For those who are under 21 years old, there is usually a zero tolerance limit. Even a small amount of alcohol is grounds for a DUI charge.
A breath testing can only detect the presence of alcohol. It only looks for blood alcohol levels and nothing else. It cannot detect whether the driver is under the influence of drugs. In these situations, most police officers will conduct a field sobriety test. There are three different sobriety tests that are often used to detect whether a person is driving while intoxicated (DWI). We’ll explore the three most popular field sobriety tests below.

The One Leg Stand Test

DUI or DWIThe one-leg stand is a standardized field sobriety test. It’s often used by police officers to determine whether a person is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The test requires the driver to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground. Their toe should be pointed, and they should be able to maintain perfect balance. The suspected driver will need to count to thirty.
While completing the one-leg stand test, the driver’s arms should be at his or her side. The driver can be arrested for DUI if they show any signs of being under the influence. The signs that police officers look for include:

  • Putting one’s foot down before the test is completed
  • Swaying to try and maintain one’s balance
  • Hopping while trying to maintain balance
  • Using one’s arms to try and maintain balance

This test can be fairly difficult. It requires the driver to divide his or her attention between following oral instructions and completing a physical task. Those who can’t do this are suspected of driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Does this test sound hard? Well, it is even for someone who is completely sober. There are plenty of reasons why a person who is sober may not be able to complete this test. Some people naturally have poor balance. In addition, a wide variety of physical conditions can prevent a person from performing this test. For example, someone who has just been recently injured or even someone who is obese may face difficulties with this test. With that said, he or she can still be arrested on suspicion of a DUI or DWI.

The Walk-and-Turn Test

driving under the influenceThis sobriety test is fairly straightforward. A police officer will ask the driver to take nine steps, touching heel-to-toe, in a straight line. Once the suspect reaches the 9th step, he or she must turn one foot and return in the same manner.
The police officer will look to see if the driver can keep his or her balance while listening to instructions. The officer will also see whether the suspect stops in the middle of the test to regain their balance or is unable to touch heel-to-toe. An interesting study conducted in 1998 found that 79% of individuals who exhibited two or more indicators while performing this test will have a BAC of over 0.08. This BAC limit surpasses the legal driving limit. Either way, here’s probable cause to arrest someone who fails this test. They can still be arrested for the crime of driving while intoxicated (DWI). It is up to the driver to prove his or her innocence. Many will need to seek a consultation or help from a law firm.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

dui chargesThe horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test is usually only used to detect whether a person is driving drunk. “Nystagmus” is a fancy term that refers to jerky eye movements. It’s a completely involuntary motion that happens after consuming alcohol. It can also happen if someone is impaired by certain drugs, like depressants. Jerky eye movements happen because alcohol depresses the nervous system.
This field sobriety test is usually only administered if other sobriety tests have already been conducted. In general, if a suspected driver fails all of the tests above and this test as well, there’s an 83% chance that the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.10. In general, this test is considered to be a fairly accurate indicator of alcohol impairment. It’s a viable test under DWI laws and can lead to DUI convictions.

How an HGN Test is Conducted

To conduct this test, police officers will take the suspect to a well-lit area. The officer will then check the suspect’s eyes. They will ask the driver to follow an object that’s only 12 to 15 inches away with their eyes. The officer will look for three signs of impairment. They include:

  • The lack of a smooth pursuit. The means that the suspect cannot follow the object with their eyes in a smooth manner. Their eyes will tend to jerk around.
  • An onset of jerky movements when the object is at the side. This happens when the item is near the edge of the suspect’s shoulder.
  • A distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation. This happens if the suspect’s eyes jerk around when the item is held at the outer edge for over four seconds.

The HGN test is fairly easy to conduct and can be quite telling. With that said, some prescription medications can cause jerky eye movements, so this test is not completely foolproof.

Field Sobriety Tests Are Not Always Reliable

field sobriety testEach field sobriety test that checks for driving under the influence is different. Different individuals may not be able to pass them even if they were sober. For example, vision loss, multiple sclerosis or some prescription medications can cause jerky eye movements. Individuals struggling with these issues will fail the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Those who are a bit older or those who are obese may have difficulties performing the one-leg stand with ease.
These sobriety tests are not perfect and not entirely accurate. If you’ve failed a test, you should consult with a DUI attorney. He or she may be able to challenge the validity of the results with the help of a law firm. After all, there are serious consequences for those who are convicted of driving under the influence (DUI).
If you were indeed intoxicated, then it’s time to reflect on your actions. Driving under the influence is incredibly dangerous. Not only can you hurt yourself, you can hurt innocent people on the road. It’s not worth it to be intoxicated while behind the wheel. If you’re struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, it’s time to get help. Amethyst Recovery offers a wide variety of treatment options and plans. Check out our facility to get a better idea of what we have to offer.


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