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Do field sobriety tests work?

On Behalf of | Oct 19, 2022 | DUI |

One of the most common things that police officers do to determine if someone is impaired is to put them through field sobriety tests. One of the advantages of using these tests is that they can show impairment based on other substances. For instance, someone who has been using drugs or medications could fail the field sobriety tests, even though they would pass a breath test.

But many of these cases do involve alcohol, and field sobriety tests are just part of the equation. In fact, the police officer may have the driver do the tests and use their failure as justification for a breath test or even an arrest.

All of this suggests that these field sobriety tests are very accurate and dependable. People are being arrested based on their use, so you would assume that would be the case. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

82% was the very best rate

In one study, the very best accuracy rate that was found was 82%. And this was only when police officers used three different field sobriety tests, all together. Only by putting people through this many procedures could they determine that they were impaired, and they could still only do it in roughly eight out of 10 cases.

When just one test was used, the accuracy rates were even lower. For instance, the accuracy rate for the walk-and-turn test was 68%, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test got a 77% rating and the one-leg stand test got a 65% rating.

While all of these do seem to get it right more than half of the time, those are still terrifically high error rates. If three people are not impaired out of every 10 who are arrested, with tens of thousands of DUI arrests per year, how many of those are false arrests? It’s easy to see that the police frequently get it wrong, even when they do perform tests at the scene.

If you’re facing arrest, you must know your options

This demonstrates why it’s so important to know about all of your legal options if you get arrested on DUI charges. You may have failed those tests and you may even have failed a breath test. Those events are a reason for you to be arrested, but they are certainly not a guarantee that you’ll be convicted. Make sure you know what steps to take.