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Examining the basics of the standardized field sobriety tests


Drunk driving is never a good decision. When a person gets behind the wheel of an automobile while they are intoxicated, they put themselves and everyone else on the road in danger. Unfortunately, bad choices sometimes take control, leading to negative situations. If law enforcement comes into contact with an individual they feel may be intoxicated, a sobriety test may be conducted to help determine if impairment is a factor.

There are several different types of standardized field sobriety tests that can be employed during a traffic stop. These tests are authorized by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration and include the following:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus. The eyes naturally jerk when horizontally following an object. This behavior becomes exaggerated when under the influence of alcohol. A police officer will look for three telltale signs of impairment: jerking within 45 degrees of the center of a gaze, distinct jerking when the eyes are at maximum deviation, and the inability to follow an object smoothly.
  • Walk and turn. This is a test designed to see if the suspected impaired driver can complete tasks with divided attention. A person will take nine, heel-to-toe steps along a straight line then turn on one foot and complete the task again in the opposite direction.
  • One-leg stand. The suspected impaired individual will stand with one foot about six inches off of the ground and count to 30. Excessive swaying or using arms for balance, hopping and dropping the suspended foot are all signs of possible impairment.

For those who have been tested with any of the above field tests, it is important to remember that they are not final words in the process of charging a person with drunk driving. If one or more of the tests were executed improperly, that may open up a possible defense. Seeking the assistance of an experienced attorney can help those in such situations make level-headed decisions that will hopefully result in the most positive outcome possible.

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