Latest News 2017 November Are Field Sobriety Tests Good at Catching Drunk Drivers?

Are Field Sobriety Tests Good at Catching Drunk Drivers?

In a report submitted to the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Southern California Research Institute shared their results of a study on an officer's ability to correctly identify drunk drivers using "standardized field sobriety tests." In the words of the study, SFSTs must test performance that corresponds to alcohol impairment. Critics of the tests say that "impairment" is defined differently across the country, so how could a single set of tests account for those differences?

For instance, here is how impairment is defined in only three states:

  • Georgia says you are impaired if you are "less safe" as a driver
  • Texas requires that you be "intoxicated," or lack normal use of your faculties
  • California requires that a person be "under the influence" of an alcoholic beverage

In fact, if SFSTs test "impairment," critics say that the tests don't actually test for alcohol consumption at all. If someone is naturally a poorly-coordinated person (but a safe driver), they'll fail the tests more often than not. If someone is a coordinated person, they're more likely to pass the tests—even if they've been drinking recently.

In the 1970s, the Southern California Research Institute (as commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) did a comprehensive study on how accurately an officer could determine alcohol impairment using an SFST. In 1995, they wrote a report using the data and submitted it to Colorado officials.

Here were the most startling of their results:

  • In the first lab test, officers made wrongful arrest decisions 46 percent of the time.
  • In the second lab test, officers made wrongful arrest decisions 32 percent of the time.

Of the 238 laboratory subjects, nearly half of those identified as drunk or impaired were not actually subject to arrest. In the second test, that number improved—but nearly 1 in 3 subjects were arrested while "innocent."

If the only evidence in your case is a field sobriety test, fight your charges. Field sobriety tests have long been given more credibility and trust than they deserve, and if you were arrested on poor evidence, you deserve to have your case dismissed or acquitted. Find and hire a DUI attorney as soon as possible today.

Categories: Field Sobriety Tests