Field sobriety tests are intended to provide trained law enforcement officers with evidence of drivers’ intoxication and inability to safely drive. In Maryland, drivers may be asked to submit to field sobriety tests when they are stopped on suspicion of drunk driving. However, field sobriety testing can be fraught with problems that may lead to erroneous arrests for drunk driving charges.
Common field sobriety tests
Field sobriety tests generally assess the physical abilities of suspected drunk drivers. They focus on coordination and movement, balance and focus. Some of the most common field sobriety tests used in the United States include:
- Single Leg Stand: This test requires a person to lift one foot off the ground and balance on the other without tipping or falling.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: During this assessment, a driver must look to one side while an officer observes their eyes for erratic movement.
- Walk and Turn: The walk and turn test requires a driver to exit their vehicle, walk a straight line, turn, and return to where they started without falling or losing balance.
As readers may anticipate, many different factors could impact a driver’s ability to successfully perform any or all these tests.
Factors that can alter field sobriety test results
Drivers who have had to operate their vehicles when tired may immediately understand how sleep deprivation may alter the results certain field sobriety tests. Similarly, drivers who suffer from disabilities may be unable to perform some of the tests successfully even when they are fully sober and awake. Some medications may alter drivers’ abilities to complete field sobriety tests without raising the suspicion of law enforcement officers.
Not all police and law enforcement personnel are trained to assess and administer field sobriety tests, and therefore unqualified individuals may wrongly identify drivers as intoxicated when they are not. Field sobriety tests can be plagued with problems. Drunk driving attorneys can help their clients work through these and other issues in their DUI cases.